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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Royal trumps on the table, aces up the sleeve

Royal trumps on the table, aces up the sleeve

P RINCE Norodom Ranariddh will be named the "historic leader" of Funcinpec

- intended to cement his position there for as long as he wants - amid fears that

the party will be left leaderless should he become King.

The move, expected at a two-day Funcinpec party congress which was due to open in

Phnom Penh yesterday, comes after renewed speculation over who will succeed King

Norodom Sihanouk upon his death.

King Sihanouk - in a newspaper interview this month - revealed he supported Ranariddh

as his heir to the throne, but expressed concern that Funcinpec would "disappear"

if and when that happened.

Funcinpec secretary-general Loy Sim Chheang said this week that the 4,500-5,000 people

expected to attend the party congress would be asked to "support the personality

and the leadership of Prince Ranariddh."

Ranariddh would be given a new, extended mandate of five years as party president,

but also named as historic leader, meaning "he can continue for how ever many

years."

Chheang, while reluctant to comment directly on the King's statements, said: "If

in the future, something happens, I'm sure Prince Ranariddh will submit the matter

for discussion in the [Funcinpec] steering committee.

"We wish that the King has a long life, because we need him. We at Funcinpec

consider the King as our father and the Queen as our mother."

Ranariddh, for his part, said he doesn't want to be King upon his father's death.

"As Buddhists, we shouldn't talk about succession and so on," Ranariddh

told reporters Mar 11.

"At this time, he is in very good health... we need him to continue to lead

us.

"Finally I do not have any desire to be King," he said, adding: "it's

very important to talk about Funcinpec. You know we're talking about democracy, pluralism.

There is democracy and pluralism [now]..."

In a Mar 8 letter to Ranariddh, three days before he returned to Cambodia, King Sihanouk

wrote that his health problems, some of which were "particularly serious",

would one day lead him to be incapable of continuing his work as King.

He revealed that doctors had identified a lesion on his brain, a hardening of his

arteries and an increased fat level in his liver.

Noting that his future was "seriously mortgaged", the King said his health

would "inevitably lead one day to my incapacitation to work to serve our country

and its well-loved and respected people."

When that happened, he said, National Assembly president Chea Sim would take over

duties as head of state as Regent.

The King said upon his own death, his successor would be chosen by the Royal Council

of the Throne in accordance with the Constitution.

The King's letter came after a Cambodia Daily interview this month in which he spoke

of Ranariddh becoming King, with the support of Cambodian People's Party (CPP) leader

Hun Sen, to the detriment of Funcinpec.

Among the King's statements were that:

CPP was gaining popularity and "for many reasons" might win the next

election, with Hun Sen becoming the sole Prime Minister.
If he (King Sihanouk) died before the election, "Ranariddh will be King"

and that Hun Sen had told Ranariddh he wanted him to be King.

"Funcinpec would disappear and you would have a very powerful head of parliament

and party. Funcinpec would disappear as Ranariddh would be King, and a King must

not have a party, even indirectly."

Exiled Prince Norodom Sirivudh "might have been the best successor" as

Funcinpec president but "since Sirivudh is 'politically liquidated' and Hun

Sen is unlikely to pardon him for another 20 years, that possibility is out. I fear

Funcinpec will disappear."

Ranariddh wanted to be King and "I think he will be happier to be a King."

"I have encouraged him. I said to him after he told me that Hun Sen told

him he wished him to be the next King...'When I die, please replace me. Never continue

to be Prime Minister, even the only Prime Minister. It will be good for you to be

King because as King it will be easier to have a clean reputation."

Queen Monique "refuses definitely to succeed me, and if she did, it would

require drastic changes to the Constitution."

Astrologers had predicted he (King Sihanouk) would die at age 74, (he is currently

73).

"Everyone must die but the important thing...is to win the last battle. The

astrologers have predicted that I will die but also that I will win the last battle."

The King's interview, and his subsequent letter about his ill-health, ignited considerable

speculation among political watchers and politicians.

Some saw his statements as a reaction to recent support for the idea of the Queen

becoming the reigning Monarch. Others perceived the King as trying to protect Ranariddh,

and give him a secure future in an uncertain political environment. Some viewed him

as intending to snub Ranariddh, along the lines of "your party is in tatters."

One observer suggested it was also a message to Hun Sen, from an "old fox"

to a "young fox", to "please restrain yourself a bit."

The King's suggestion of a possible Chea Sim regency was viewed with particular significance.

Chea Sim is widely seen as part of a potential rival bloc within CPP to Hun Sen.

Some observers suggested health reasons could, in the future, be cited by the King

to allow him to "abdicate without abdicating" - making Chea Sim Regent,

freeing the King from his responsibilities and Constitutional obligations.

The consensus among all observers spoken to by the Post was that the King was in

relative good health for his age.

"I think he could live five years," said one person who had seen the King

recently.

"He still has some time to achieve his objectives before his death, to bring

peace to his nation, to achieve reconciliation and to be remembered as such,"

said one Cambodian observer.

Within Funcinpec, party members acknowledged there would be a leadership gap if Ranariddh

left to become King.

"You should ask Ranariddh. If he becomes King, who does he want to replace him?

He has to prepare for this," said one MP.

Another said there were alternatives to Ranariddh leaving Funcinpec and "he

must understand that this is the policy of CPP, that they prefer him to become King."

Other possibilities suggested by the MP included Constitutional changes to allow

Queen Monique to be the reigning Monarch, or to introduce a presidential system whereby

Ranariddh could be King and president of Cambodia, while Hun Sen remained Prime Minister.

"For a long time it was very sensitive to talk about the post-Sihanouk period.

Now, for the first time we can talk about this. Why not? It is good."

MPs and observers expressed concern for political stability if, by the time of the

King's death, the Constitutional Council and a fully independent judiciary was not

in place.

Under the Constitution, the King has no right to name the heir to the throne. Within

seven days of the King's death, the Royal successor must be chosen by a seven-member

Royal Council of Throne, in accordance with a law (which has yet to be passed).

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