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Royals need to generate our respect


People pay their respects to the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, October 2012. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Dear Norodom Soma,

It’s easy to point out the obvious: the Cambodian monarchy is crippled and heading towards disappearing.

Ask just about any person in the street, and they can probably give you the gist of your column last Friday (no offence intended).

The main challenge should be to offer, and to advocate, a sound solution.

It would be nice if you could provide us with an article on what that solution might be.

The monarchy and its customs are deeply rooted in Khmer culture, and I would hate to see it disappear.

To have a successful monarchy (body), as with any government, the “body” needs to demand authority.

Authority, in short, comes from differentiating the “body” from the masses and demonstrating to the public how this “body” is more able and more intelligent.

I’m sure this was the driving force behind King Jayavarman I climbing Phnom Kulen with priests to declare himself a “god” king.

The current “body” has yet to demand this authority, aside from whatever remains of the authority that has been handed down and bestowed.

I have had the honour and the pleasure of interacting with numerous royals, and I have not felt this “differentiation” and “demand”. It felt as though there was nothing, apart from the title “Excellency”, to respect (again, no offence is intended).

On this note, self-demanded authority is respected, whereas handed-down authority is gossiped about and frowned upon.

A rich man’s impotent family will never command the same respect as the rich man himself – if it commands any respect at all.

I don’t intend to sound picky and shallow, but I think most royals have forgotten the basic ingredient for being a public figure: self-presentation.

I’m sure Barack Obama, Donald Trump, the Thai royals and countless other successful businessmen and politicians would attest to the importance of professional, sharp, elegant and clean public presentation.

Americans are fond of saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, too bad – this is Asia.

Looking “expensive” matters. Go with the flow. Even middle-class Thais and Singaporeans can afford this. Budget shouldn’t be an excuse.

Yingluck Shinawatra’s attendance to pay her respects to the King Father illustrates another flaw: the lack of rules, procedures and regulations.

The Thai prime minister was so gentle and placed her head all the way to the ground to show respect, but some Cambodian officials didn’t even get on their knees.

This is a royal ceremony, so it should be standardised and uniform. It’s not a buffet of “do as you see fit”.

The royals are the foremost representation of Cambodia. If even the most elite of Cambodians lack this uniformity, what will the world think of the rest of us?     

I didn’t write this to offend or to point fingers. I wrote it to express my sadness in witnessing this downfall, and I hope it will stir some response among the royals.

I like the Cambodian monarchy, and I want to see it not only survive but thrive. And yes, unity among the royals would be a good start.

Thank you for your time, understanding, consideration (and forgiveness, if I have come out too strongly). You have my best of wishes.

PS: Please use Norodom Soma, as opposed to Soma Norodom. It’s the Cambodian way.

You’re a Cambodian royal, so please represent us well. You will never hear anyone address the Thai King as Adulyadej Bhumibol.

Kambuja Amatak

The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.
Send letters to: or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.



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