Born October 31, 1922, Reigning Monarch from 1941-55, & 1993-present
Father of Independence
His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk was born on 31 October 1922 in a house, which his
maternal grand father, King Sisowath Monivong, had given to his favorite daughter,
Princess Sisowath Kossamak, later to become Queen of Cambodia.
According to the chief astrologer of the court, the newly born prince would not
enjoy a long life if his parents, Their Royal Highnesses Prince Norodom Suramarit
and Princess Sisowath Kossamak, kept him with them. It was necessary, the chief astrologer
stated, to separate him from his parents to be taken care of by someone else.
Princess Kossamak asked, therefore, her maternal grandmother, Chau Khun (Lady)
Pat, to adopt and take care of her son. Chau Khun Pat adopted Norodom Sihanouk with
great pleasure and placed a commoner named Samley (Cotton) to be the nanny of the
This commoner was influential in fostering the special rapport, which has existed
between His Majesty the King, and the common citizenry of Cambodia.
When Chau Khun Pat died, Princess Kossamak, who respected the prediction of the
chief astrologer of the court, did not dare to take her young son back and asked
the parents of Prince Suramarit, Samdech and Princess Norodom Sutharot to take care
of her son.
It was at the residence of his paternal grandparents that Princess Norodom Ket
Kanya Mom, the aunt of His Majesty, began to take care of Norodom Sihanouk for the
remainder of her life until her death in March 1993.
His Majesty completed his primary schooling at the François Baudoin Primary
School in Phnom Penh and was considered a good student, receiving his Certificate
of Studies in 1934. In 1935, His Majesty entered the Lycée Sisowath to complete
his sixth year and then continued his secondary schooling at the Chasseloup-Laubat
High School, in Saigon from 1936 until his election to the Throne of Cambodia, where
he was a "particularly distinguished student, notably in the classics, Greek
The King's life-long pursuit and goals were:
- Firstly, the complete independence of Cambodia and the safeguard at any price
of Cambodia's territorial integrity;
- Secondly, peace and national stability with unity and national reconciliation
- Thirdly, to encourage all Cambodians to work together in order to progressively
develop their country.
- The first achievement of these goals that the young monarch fixed for himself
and his country came in 1947 when with the assistance of France, King Sihanouk obtained
from Thailand the return to Cambodia of the territory it had taken during the Second
World War: Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom and Stung Treng.
The same year, His Majesty undertook the transformation of the institutions of
the State. Holding all powers, and exercising directly most of them-in particular,
legislative powers-the young King wanted to replace the traditional absolute monarchy
by a Constitutional and Parliamentary monarchy.
On 31 May 1946, an electoral law was promulgated allowing the election, by universal
and direct suffrage, of a Consultative Assembly charged to study a Draft Constitution
to be submitted to it. Elections were held in a peaceful atmosphere in September
1946 and the new Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia was promulgated on 6 May
This first Constitution of Cambodia was greatly inspired by the elaborated scheme
of the provisional government of the French Republic. It had a thoroughly democratic
spirit and contained the principal and necessary stipulations to make the constitutional
monarchy a democratic institution.
Essential public liberties were acknowledged to all Cambodians and the law, the
expression of the national will, guaranteed to all citizens the practice of constitutional
liberties and rights.
All power emanated from the King, but was carried out on his behalf by the National
Assembly, the Ministers or the Courts of Justice of different degrees or jurisdictions
concerning either the legislative, executive or judicial powers.
Members of the National Assembly were to be elected by universal and direct suffrage
and were the representatives of the whole Cambodian nation. They were given parliamentary
immunity during the entire period of their electoral mandate.
The Council of the Kingdom, another assembly of a consultative nature, was established.
Their members were either appointed or elected by limited suffrage. It provided advice
on legislative matters.
The Ministers were responsible to the National Assembly and could be prosecuted by
it, for crimes, offences or mistakes in discharging their duties.
The new Constitution also made provision for the establishment of the Higher Council
of the Magistracy, which would ensure the independence and discipline of the Magistracy.
In 1949, King Sihanouk obtained from France the repeal of the 1863 Treaty and
the 1864 Convention that had established the French protectorate over the whole of
Cambodia. The country then became a State associated to the French Union.
By early 1953, His Majesty was ready to make his move and consolidate the independence
of Cambodia. As part of what he termed his 'Royal Crusade for Independence' the young
King traveled to France and demanded complete Cambodian sovereignty.
The French initially ignored his requests and the young monarch, therefore, embarked
on a trip around Europe and the United States as part of what can only be described
as a brilliant public relations campaign in which he exposed the case for Cambodian
independence to his interlocutors.
Upon his return to Cambodia, King Sihanouk took up residence not in the capital
but in Siem Reap, near the ancient city of Angkor and continued to explain his goals
to his compatriots and foreign visitors.
On 9 November 1953, France finally decided to grant full independence to the Kingdom.
In 1954, Cambodia participated in the Geneva Conference as a country having already
achieved its full independence and could therefore avoid the partitions of which
Laos and Vietnam were the victims.
In Geneva, Cambodia signed a peace agreement with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
by which Cambodia obtained the departure from Cambodian territory of all the Vietnamese
Communist forces remaining in the country after the independence of Cambodia from
France on 9 November 1953 and the departure of French forces.
Always ready to defend the territorial integrity of Cambodia, His Majesty did
not hesitate to take up arms against foreign invaders such as in the military operation
known as 'Samakki' when His Majesty led the biggest offensive operation of the Cambodian
Armed Forces against foreign troops in the north of Cambodia from 17 December 1953
to 2 January 1954 and again in the provinces of Kratie and Stung Treng in April 1954
against Viet-Minh (Vietnamese communist) forces.
On 2 March 1955, His Majesty announced his abdication.
His Majesty King Norodom Suramarit, father of King Sihanouk, was elected the new
King of Cambodia. HRH Prince Norodom Sihanouk was granted the rank of 'Samdech' and
the title of 'Upayuvareach of Cambodia' by his father the King.
In a letter to Prime Minister Nehru of India, His Majesty explained the reasons
behind his abdication:
"The fact is that my abdication from the throne of Cambodia has no other motive
than my own very sincere conviction that my duty as a ruling monarch had come to
an end with the attainment of the national independence of our people and that another
task is now awaiting me."
"This task is the solution of social problems and the promotion of a genuine
democratic system by putting an end to a situation in which the powers of government
had become concentrated in the hands of a small privileged class, who could in no
sense be said to represent the real interests of the people and which in fact was
exploiting them. It is my aim to ensure that these powers will be exercised by the
people themselves, and to give to them the means of removing the injustices, corruption
and exploitation from which they have suffered so long."
"It is my belief that such a task cannot be properly fulfilled by a reigning
sovereign, who finds himself imprisoned within a rigid system which cannot be easily
adjusted because that system was created by the interested persons who have since
caused our people to lose faith in those so-called democratic institutions, based
in fact on a foreign system of government, ill-suited to the nature and the needs
of our people. By renouncing the Throne, I wish therefore to serve my people in order
to achieve these aims."
Samdech Sihanouk then formed the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People's Socialist Community)
which achieved a great victory during legislative elections [82% of the popular vote].
Samdech Sihanouk became Prime Minister and, at the helm of the Cambodian people,
began his work for the general development of Cambodia, in all the fields of her
The Sangkum Reastr Niyum proceeded to give, in 1955, the same political rights
to all Cambodia women and established the National Congress, an institution that
granted the right to all citizens to question directly the actions and activities
of the Government, Parliament, Administration and Judiciary.
In April 1955, Sam-dech Sihanouk participated in the First Afro-Asian Conference
at Bandung (Indonesia) and proclaimed the neutrality of Cambodia.
In 1956, in Brioni (former Yugoslavia), Samdech Sihanouk signed with President
Josip Broz Tito of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, the Charter of
the Movement of Non-aligned Countries, becoming together with President Gamal Abdel
Nasser of the United Arab Republic, President Soekarno of Indonesia and Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru of India, the 5th Co-Founder of this Movement.
On 3 April 1960, upon the death of His Majesty King Norodom Suramarit, Samdech
Sihanouk was elected unanimously by the members of the Cambodian Parliament, Head
of State of Cambodia. He continued, at the helm of the Cambodian people, his work
of national construction.
Samdech Sihanouk concentrated his personal efforts on the Cambodian economy and
managed to achieve a surplus of rice every year for export of approximately 500,000
tonnes in a good year, and 300,000 tonnes in a difficult year. The National Budget
and the Balance of Trade were kept in good order and there was no deficit while the
National Bank permanently kept substantial holdings of hard foreign currencies.
In 1961, Samdech Sihanouk participated in the First Summit Conference of the Non-Aligned
Countries, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
The efforts of Samdech Sihanouk to defend and keep the territorial integrity of
Cambodia intact were crowned by the decision of the International Court of The Hague
restoring to Cambodia the ancient temple of Preah Vihear, which had been claimed
and occupied by the Thai army.
On 18 March 1970, during an official visit to the Soviet Union, Samdech Sihanouk
was the victim of a coup d'etat in Phnom Penh, a military putsch whose leaders were
Lon Nol and Sirik Matak. The monarchy was abolished and the Khmer Republic of Lon
Nol was declared in October 1970 and Cambodia entered one of the most tragic periods
of its existence.
- Ambassador Julio Jeldres is the official biographer of HM the King.
The article above is an excerpt from a book on which the ambassador is currently
working with HRH the Princess Royal Norodom Arunrasmy, "The Royal House of Cambodia".