Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) greets a group of Buddhist nuns at the opening ceremony for a new building in Phnom Penh, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday he believed that the February 4th cremation of King Father Norodom Sihanouk was a miracle, and noted that of all the participants who put a burning candle wick to the funeral pyre, only he was successful in lighting the fire.
Speaking at an inauguration ceremony at Preah Sihamoni Reachea Buddhist University in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district yesterday, Hun Sen said that the attempts of the first four people – King Norodom
Sihamoni, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath and two chief monks – had failed because candles had gone out and portions of the pyre failed to ignite.
After they tried, Hun Sen said, he stepped in. The flames caught and spread.
The cremation of Sihanouk, who died last year at age 89, had begun.
The unexpected turn in the proceedings was unusual when compared with past cremations. Traditionally, it’s the successor, in this case King Sihamoni, who is responsible for lighting the fire. Sihanouk fulfilled this duty for the cremation of his own father, King Suramarit, in 1960.
Nhek Bunn Chhay, a member of the royal funeral committee, said the official government plan for the ceremony called for King Sihamoni and Queen Mother Monineath to light the flame.
Hun Sen explained the initial lack of fire as a kind of spiritual force of the departed Sihanouk, who, the premier said, wasn’t quite ready to bid farewell to his family.
“I have told the Queen Mother and King that he didn’t want to leave his children. Queen Mother said that the King Father [Sihanouk] waits for Samdech Prime Minister,” Hun Sen said. “This is due to a miracle of his power. It is not a technical problem.”
Independent political analyst Chea Vannath said Hun Sen was omnipresent during Sihanouk’s funeral, and so it comes as no surprise that he would play a bigger role in the cremation rites.
She said the action also exemplified the way that Hun Sen took the limelight off of Sihanouk and the royal family at the funeral and redirected it on his own image.
“Everything else was overshadowed by his presence,” she said.
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