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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Succession issue troubles King

Succession issue troubles King

The highly sensitive and politically charged question over who will become king on

the eventual death of King Norodom Sihanouk has the King worried, a senior palace

insider has told the Post.

Among the concerns of the King, who recently turned 79 and who has long had health

troubles, is that the law governing the selection of his replacement has still not

been drafted.

"In a private conversation with me, the King said he is concerned that the monarchy

is seen by some politicians as no longer serving the needs of the country, and could

be abolished in favor of a republic," the source said.

"I have noted that a picture is emerging of an isolated and increasingly powerless

King ... We have to clarify the rules before the King passes away," he continued.

He said the question which has been raised recently is over who will eventually replace

King Sihanouk, but the King himself is more concerned over the lack of a law to define

the Throne Council, whose constitutional function is to choose his replacement.

Nearly nine years after the Constitution was promulgated, the law under which the

Throne Council will operate has still not been drafted. The King, the source said,

is concerned that the Cambodian People's Party will use the period immediately after

the King's death to rush through a law that would ensure a new king favorable to

the ruling party.

Under the Constitution, the King has limited powers, but among these are the power

to veto the appointment of high-ranking government officials, from ministers to senior

police and military staff. The King, he said, is concerned that a politically-biased

replacement could act as a mere puppet for the CPP.

The Throne Council is a nine member body composed of the Prime Minister, the presidents

of the National Assembly and the Senate, both deputy presidents of those institutions,

and the leaders of the country's two Buddhist sects, Mohannikay and Thommayut.

Five of the nine are allied with the CPP and four with the royalist Funcinpec. The

Constitution states that the Throne Council must appoint a replacement within seven

days. Article 13 states: "The organization and functioning of the Council of

the Throne shall be determined by law." That law has not been drawn up, and

it is this, the source said, that has the King worried.

Article 12 of the Constitution states that in the event of the King's death, the

President of the Senate "shall take over responsibility as Acting Head of State

in the capacity of Regent of the Kingdom of Cambodia". The Senate President

is Chea Sim, one of the CPP's most senior politicians.

The palace source said few people in Cambodia would openly discuss the succession

process for fear of showing disrespect to the King. He said that reasoning was flawed,

and the topic was being manipulated behind the scenes for political ends to pressure

the royal family.

Opposition MP Son Chhay, who has tried to raise the issue numerous times, agreed

with that assessment.

"The ruling CPP and Funcinpec both accuse me of not respecting the King, but

they are at fault by not respecting the provisions of the Constitution," said

Chhay. "All I have done is draft a law governing the Throne Council, and they

told me that was impolite to the King and that by raising the issue I was looking

to see him die quickly."

Chhay said that several years ago he promised Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk that

he would draft the law and push to have the National Assembly debate it. However

Funcinpec MPs rejected his draft law saying it would allow only full-blooded members

of the Royal Family becoming King, which would exclude Prince Ranariddh, the party

leader, as his mother was not of royal blood.

However, said Chhay, that was merely an excuse to avoid discussing the draft, as

any aspect of the draft law was subject to the approval of the Assembly and could

be changed.

He said if Funcinpec was interested in retaining the monarchy as a permanent feature

of Cambodia, it would have to encourage debate over the law governing the Throne


"If there is no legislation, I think that when the King dies there will no longer

be any monarchy in the country," Chhay said. He added that the Prime Minister,

as the most powerful person in the country, and his CPP party don't want the legislation,

allowing it to gain political dominance in the one area it does not yet control.

Veteran political observer Dr Lao Mong Hay said that politicians should sit down

and make public the rules of succession, rather than it being subject to a secret

arrangement which is then presented as a fait accompli.

He said Cambodia, unlike neighboring Thailand, does not have a hereditary monarchy,

but selects its kings. As the monarch is very popular in Cambodia and many people

respect him, preparations must be made that are transparent and acceptable to the


"Without knowing [the preparations] in advance, I think the people will be shocked

and surprised if the next king is forced on the people. That will engender criticism,"

said Mong Hay.

"According to the Constitution the next king must be selected seven days after

the death of the reigning King, but the legislation is lacking," he said. "If

it is not done in time, then in the same way as the Electoral Law, it will be pushed

through in a short period, which is not good enough, or there will be a regent."

Mong Hay said that according to the Constitution the concept of a constitutional

monarchy could not be changed, but since the Lon Nol era, which began June 18, 1970,

until 1993 the country's leaders had shown no willingness to re-establish the monarchy.

He said it was unclear whether the CPP even wanted a monarchy.

"The constitutional monarchy cannot be changed, but if public opinion is galvanized,

then it would be possible to abolish it," said Mong Hay. "However I have

noted that the Cambodian people feel they still need the monarchy. The 1993 elections

were a reflection of the popularity of King Norodom Sihanouk."

Both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh have held to the view that official

debate about the legislation governing the succession would be impolite to the King

and give the impression that those raising the issue wanted him to die quickly.

"However I think that is not the real reason, and is down more to political

intentions," he said.

He added that according to the Constitution, Queen Monineath cannot succeed her husband,

but he said her experience meant she was the best choice, and the Assembly could

approve her. Her association with King Sihanouk over almost 50 years meant she had

developed sharp political skills.

"If Khmers choose her to sit on the throne, Cambodia could show the world it

is not subject to racial discrimination," said Mong Hay, alluding to her mixed

Khmer-Italian heritage.

The palace source said he wanted to see the monarchy play its role fully as defined

in the Constitution. The King is regarded as a symbol of national unity, and a guarantee

for the continuity of the state, he said, and it should not be the job of Hun Sen

to take on those functions when the King passes away.

He said King Sihanouk has twice asked Prince Ranariddh to renounce politics and train

for the position as Cambodia's next king, but the Prince has declined to do so. The

most likely candidates after Ranariddh, he said, were Prince Norodom Sihamoni, who

currently lives in France, and Funcinpec secretary-general Prince Norodom Sirivudh.

Ranariddh told reporters on June 25 that the matter of the throne was not a priority

for him, and said the more important task was to concentrate on electoral reform

ahead of the general election scheduled for July 27, 2003.

"We should not talk about succession while the King is still alive and in good

health, as he is today," Ranariddh said. "The issue of the general election

needs to be solved to bring credibility, justice and a genuine democracy to Cambodians.

This will go hand in hand to strengthen the monarchy."

The Constitution states that any male descendant of King Norodom, King Ang Duong

or King Sisowath, and who is 30 or older is eligible. There are around 60 possible

candidates, the palace source said.

King Sihanouk first became King in 1941 at the age of 18. In recent years he has

suffered two strokes, and he also has diabetes. In 1993 he was diagnosed with colon

cancer, and he frequently travels to Beijing for treatment. He will travel to China

later this month for further medical care.



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