PRESSURE is mounting on the Cambodian government to allow King Norodom Sihanouk to
abdicate and to forge a throne council to choose a successor.
The Constitutional Council will meet soon to discuss an opposition party query over
whether Sihanouk, 81, now in Beijing, can step down from the throne and if so who
will decide on his replacement.
The move comes as a close confidant to the King said it is likely he will go through
with plans to abdicate, creating a race against time to avoid a constitutional crisis
in an already unsteady nation.
"While King Sihanouk has in the past announced his abdication and then subsequently
changed his mind, on this occasion, observers agree that the King is serious and
will finally abdicate as he did back in 1955," wrote Julio Jeldres, official
biographer of Sihanouk, in a commentary in the Asia Times Online on August 12.
"The King is said to be very distressed by the state of the country, with the
poorest getting poorer and the richest getting richer through corrupt deals and the
abuse of power," wrote Jeldres.
While his exact schedule remains unclear, Sihanouk recently declined an invitation
to preside over the Fourth Buddhist Summit in Myanmar in December, suggesting he
will not return to Cambodia for another six months.
"Indeed... the Queen and I have some serious health problems which confine us
for a long time close to our eminent physicians in the People's Republic of China,"
the King wrote in a letter posted on his website on August 7.
Since early June, the King has repeatedly raised the prospect of abdicating and retiring
with his wife, Queen Norodom Monineath, to a quieter life at their Siem Reap palace.
But Jeldres said the establishment of the throne council has yet to be passed by
the National Assembly and in reality "is still a myth".
The constitution says the nine-member throne council is to appoint a new king within
seven days of his death, but does not refer specifically to the succession process
in the event of his abdication.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has said the King cannot abdicate because Article 7 of the
constitution makes him the head of state for life.
Hun Sen is expected to meet the King during a visit to Beijing later this month to
sign bilateral economic agreements with China and attend the third International
Conference of Asian Political Parties on September 3 to 6.
Earlier this month, Hun Sen upset the King by saying he was too busy paying attention
to the poor to worry about Sihanouk's threats to abdicate.
"From now on, I will stay in Beijing," wrote the King in response. "I
will stop speaking about my abdication."
The opposition Sam Rainsy Party has been more supportive, asking that the King be
allowed to choose his future as his basic human right.
On August 10, a group of 16 Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians sent a letter to the
president of the Constitutional Council asking it to explain what will happen if
the King steps down.
A spokesman for the Constitutional Council, Prak Sok, told the Post on August 12
that a small group will consider the letter and submit it to a larger meeting.
Sok did not say who would be involved in the consultations or when they would happen.
"I don't know who will choose the next king," he said.
The Council of the Throne consists of the Prime Minister, the country's two top monks
and the president, first vice president and second vice president of the Senate and
National Assembly. It has never met.
In 1955, Sihanouk abdicated the throne in favor of his father, Norodom Suramarit,
in order to enter politics and set up the Sangkum Reastr Niyum party which dominated
politics for the next 15 years. ,
When his father died in 1960 and no new king was named, Sihanouk became Head of State
as well as Prime Minister.
Speculation over the King's future has been fueled by his own statements from North
Korea and China amid political controversy at home, where a government was formed
in mid-July, ending a 12-month stalemate.