O n the occasion of the 74th Birthday of His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk,
Chea Vannath urges action to ensure the effective continuation of Cambodia's Monarchy.
KING Norodom Sihanouk is by far the most outstanding Cambodian monarch of the 20th century. The closest contemporary
King to whom we can compare him is his great grandfather, King Ang Duong (1845-1860).
Based on Mr Sam Yang's research paper, David Chandler calls Ang Duong's part in Khmer history the "renaissance
period". Toward the end of his life, King Ang Duong spent his own money equivalent to 700 nens (Cambodian
measures) of silver, which equals 269kg, to free 350 people from slavery. He also instructed the Queen and their
children that when he died, they should cut his flesh and give it for food to the birds and animals (which they
did). Based on the Buddhist religion, what he did was an act of unconditional and unselfish giving toward humanity
and the world.
The similarities between these two Kings are their competence and wisdom in leading the country toward peace and
prosperity under Buddhist principles, while at the same time keeping up with the outside world's evolution.
Buddhism, which is a tolerant religion, and the Cambodian throne enhance each other. But Buddhism can survive the
demise of the Throne. Burma and Cambodia both are Buddhist countries, but the Burmese throne did not survive the
British subjugation. The last king of Burma was exiled in 1885 to Ratnagiri where he lived until his death in 1914.
For the Burmese people, the end of the monarchy was a sudden and wholly unprecedented break with the past, which
had been sometimes turbulent and unhappy, but which was nonetheless an undeniable part of the recognized order.
King Sihanouk's grandfather, King Norodom (1860-1904), strove to survive the French subjugation, and he did. On
the secular side, the monarchy, while weak in administration, had proved itself strong in battle often enough to
have acquired the reputation of a considerable - one might say imperial - power in Southeast Asia during the Angkor
era. Thus it was that, when King Norodom considered himself the very equal of the French President, the King's
assurance was not so patently absurd as it might have appeared to those who viewed the still medieval kingdom from
the perspective of a western nation propelled by the technical achievements of the Industrial Revolution. King
Norodom was seen by the French as an absolute monarch who stood firm in preserving the traditional power structure,
giving no room for change. While the French succeeded in transforming and modernizing Cambodia to a certain degree,
they failed to destroy the everlasting ties of respect and reverence of the Khmer people toward their Monarch.
The French clearly understood that the King was a sacred institution and any attempt to undermine him could prompt
severe revolt against them. Etienne Aymonier, a Protectorate Representative (1879-1881), gave the following view:
"The attachment of the Cambodians to their chiefs is as profound as it is sincere. The nation has long been
accustomed to the idea of not separating its own existence from that of the royal house. The monarch is the living
incarnation, the august and supreme personification of nationality."
Today, Cambodian scholars who recognize the necessity and benefit of the Throne in Cambodian society have concerns
about the application of the Throne succession process mentioned in the Constitution. Article 13 of the Constitution
Within a period of not more than seven days, the new King of the Kingdom of Cambodia shall be chosen by the Royal
Council of Throne.
The Royal Council of the Throne shall consist of:
The President of the National Assembly,
The Prime Minister,
Samdech the Chiefs of the Orders of Mohanikay and Thammayut,
The 1st and 2nd Vice-Presidents of the National Assembly.
The organization and functioning of the Council of the Throne shall be determined by Law.
There are concerns about the effectiveness of the application of the above Article. Some of the concerns are: (1)
the timetable is not clearly defined (seven days from what date?). This lack of precision is open to different
interpretations; (2) there are now two Prime Minister positions, instead of one as mentioned in the Constitution;
(3) a mechanism to ensure fairness, justice, and impartiality in the King election process, and (4) the organization
and functioning of the Council law should be developed.
Cambodians who want to see the Throne survive and prosper are puzzled and frustrated to not hear or see any reports
of progress on the above issues. However, at least this apparent lack of progress gives us an opportunity to respectfully
wish long life and prosperity to our revered King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk!
Concerned citizens also feel strongly that, in order to provide flexibility which will contribute to the longevity
of the Khmer Throne, and also to promote equal opportunity and gender fairness, Article 14 of the Constitution
should be changed to allow the inclusion of female candidates in the line of Royal succession. As a matter of fact,
the first Monarch of the more than two thousand years of recorded Khmer history was a Queen. Her name was Soma
(or Liv Yi), and she proved herself to be a good leader. To make the Throne succession more flexible and adaptable
to this changing world as discussed above is not an aberration. In an effort to preserve the British throne, Queen
Elizabeth II recently formed a "Way Ahead" committee to reconsider the throne's mission after a series
of troubled years. One of the issues under discussion was the radical one of ending male primogeniture.
LONG LIVE THE KHMER THRONE!
(Chea Vannath is vice-president of the Center for Social Development, a local non-governmental organization that
seeks to affect public policy and promote good governance.)