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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wither the throne?

Wither the throne?

When His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk first publicly broached the subject of his

death last month he gave voice to a concern for a long time on many observers' minds.

"My death is foreseeable," His Majesty said in a statement requesting Queen

Monineath be allowed to reside in the Royal Palace after his death.

The begging question is who will succeed His Majesty to the throne?

Approximately five views predominate in answer to the question pitching arch-rivals

against one another and threatening the delicate balance of power in the government.

Article 14 of the new Constitution states the chosen heir must be "a member

of the Khmer Royal Family, aged at least 30 years, coming from the blood line of

King Ang Duong, Norodom or Sisowath."

Although numerous candidates could be considered for the Throne, based on the Constitutional

requirements, only a handful are likely to be considered.

The actual choice rests solely with the Royal Council of the Throne which must name

a new heir within seven days of the King's abdication or death.

Sitting on the committee are Chea Sim as President of the National Assembly, H.R.H.

Prince Ranariddh and H.E. Hun Sen as First and Second Prime Ministers, H.E. Loy Sim

Chheang and H.E. Son Soubert as Vice Presidents of the National Assembly, and the

two Supreme Monks of both Buddhist orders.

Unlike other reigning monarchies, the ultimate choice of heir is neither simple nor

clear as the Khmer Monarchy has always been elective and not hereditary.

Nowhere does the Constitution say specifically that a woman is ineligible for the

throne, but it is taken for granted by Royal observers that women cannot qualify.

The King has twice made what observers say can be construed as de facto annointments

of his son, His Royal Highness Prince Norodom Ranariddh, as heir.

But the Prince has publicly rejected any prospect of assuming the throne on several

occasions, saying he prefers to stay in politics.

However, King Sihanouk has withdrawn advice he made to his son in Oct. when he told

the local Press the Prince and current First Prime Minister would have to give up

politics before being considered eligible.

"He must de-politicize himself completely from the executive branch of the government

and prepare himself to serve the people as their King," His Majesty told a local

paper.

King Sihanouk has since told the Phnom Penh Post from his sickbed in Beijing that

Prince Ranariddh would not have to give up politics until the moment he was elected

King, should such a situation occur.

"Samdech Norodom Ranariddh is right in saying he does not need to renounce politics

and the governing of the country to be eligible as King after my death," His

Majesty told the Post.

"If, on my death, the Royal Throne council elects Samdech Norodom Ranariddh

as King, he will then have to cease directing a political party and governing the

country, and will be a King who will reign but will not rule."

The likelihood of Prince Ranariddh succeeding his father to the throne is widely

debated.

Some observers say his public rejection of the throne is contrary to his real desires.

They say the Prince's preference for affairs of pomp and ceremony and protocol, over

administrative affairs, render him more suitable as King than as Prime Minister.

But senior officials in the Prince's own party, FUNCINPEC, say he is genuinely disinterested

in abandoning his role in the government for the monarchy.

Julio Jeldres, the King's official biographer and honorary member of the Royal Cabinet,

says the depth of Prince Ranariddh's involvement with Cambodian politics would render

him unsuitable as future King because it breaches the most important requirement:

a firm distance from politics.

Indeed, the one agreement among most observers of the Royal Family is that the King

be firmly removed from politics, as a guarantee of non-interference from the monarchy

in the running of the country.

"To keep the monarchy above the recurring conflicts in this country's difficult

politics - that's why they want to give it to someone not involved with one faction

or another," says Jeldres.

"If we're going to keep national reconciliation going, we need someone that

has the moral authority and is above politics," he said.

For that reason, Jeldres believes Prince Ranariddh' very public foe and half-brother,

Prince Norodom Chakrapong, would also be unsuitable as successor.

However, under a purist approach, Prince Chakrapong is one of the two most eligible

heirs.

The Prince, a former hard-liner in the Cambodian People's Party who led the eastern

secessionist movement in protest at the May election results, and his older brother

Prince Yuvaneath, are the only surviving offspring of both King Sihanouk and a Royal

mother.

The rest of King Sihanouk's seven living children were born of non-Royal mothers;

the six other full-blooded Royal children either died of disease or were killed by

the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

In fact it is Queen Monique's eldest son, 40 year old Prince Norodom Sihamoni, who

is most widely tipped as King Sihanouk's successor.

The Prince, who is currently Cambodia's Ambassador to UNESCO, is a ballet teacher

in Paris and, most favorably, considered a consummate artist with no interest in

politics.

He has also starred in several of his father's films.

The King has already publicly declared him as the next person suitable for the throne

after Prince Ranariddh.

Jeldres says Prince Sihamoni is the ideal candidate because of his distance from

the country's politics and his absorption in the arts.

"He is a complete artist only interested in music...thus he would make a great

patron of the arts and ancient Khmer culture and traditions," said Jeldres.

Jeldres believes Prince Sihamoni is among King Sihanouk's closest sons because, of

all his children, he has lived with him the longest.

It is reported that Prince Sihamoni is popular with politicians of both FUNCINPEC

and the CPP.

However, one senior party official told the Post they would prefer someone with more

political understanding and that Prince Sihamoni "lacks that sort of blood".

The King's second son by Queen Monique, Prince Norodom Narindrapong, is unlikely

to be considered for health reasons.

A favored choice among some FUNCINPEC officials is Prince Norodom Sirivudh, the King's

step-brother and current Foreign Affairs Minister and deputy Prime Minister.

They say he would make a perfect King because "he's a man with good character

and is good with people".

A fifth, although quite distant, possibility lies with two elderly princes, one living

in the United States and the other in France.

Both appear to be fully removed from politics and their advanced age would also work

in their favor, according to some observers who say short reigns with coronations

and, eventually, state funerals would help engender a high profile and loyalty for

the monarchy.

While this succession rout is only a remote possibility as it would mean a monarch's

great-grandson, rather than son, would take the throne, the contender here is 73-year

old Paris-based Prince Sisowath Essaro, a great grandson of King Sisowath, who reigned

from 1904 to 1927.

He was Ambassador to UNESCO until 1970.

However, when the time comes to name a successor to His Majesty King Sihanouk, the

choice will be neither the King's, Queen Monineath's, nor Prince Ranariddh's.

The Royal Throne Council will have seven days to make their decision.

When that will be, and whether the choice will be the current First Prime Minister,

a Foreign Minister, or an aging Prince in a faraway land, is still an open question.

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