His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni arrived in Phnom Penh from Beijing with his parents
on October 20 to a festive welcome from around 100,000 people.
They were hailing a new king and saluting the reign of his father Norodom Sihanouk
and his wife, former Queen Norodom Monineath. The royals rode in a limousine together,
acknowledging the cheers and flag-waving on both sides of the nine-kilometer route
from Phnom Penh International Airport to the Royal Palace.
Sihamoni, 51, unmarried, will be enthroned as monarch on October 29 in what palace
sources say will be a relatively simple ceremony. Sihanouk himself has requested
However, as the Post went to press, there were few details available about the coronation
program, or the invitation list.
There is no gem-encrusted crown - that disappeared during or after the Khmer Rouge
period - and a replica may be used.
In a long-standing tradition that is said to enhance longevity, Sihamoni will place
behind his ear a sprig of leaves plucked from an orange tree in the palace grounds.
At the airport the trio spent more than an hour greeting government officials including
Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh,
top military brass, diplomats and other well-wishers standing along a red carpet
on the runway, before speaking to reporters.
"I have received a great honor from the Cambodian people who supported me to
replace my father," said Sihamoni, a classical dancer and choreographer who
has spent most of his life abroad. "I am excited. I will try to serve the Cambodian
people and the nation with all my heart and ability."
Sihamoni was elected the new king last week. He had previously left his home in France
to join his father in Beijing, where the 81-year old has spent most of this year
receiving medical treatment.
Sihanouk admitted his health was "not so good" and that Chinese doctors
had prescribed up to 40 tablets a day to treat a litany of ailments including cancer.
The much-loved monarch said he would stay in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh to advise
"I wanted to stay in Siem Reap but my son asked me to stay with him to get confidence
from his parents," said Sihanouk. "He needs advice because of his lack
of experience. He needs explanations about national and international foreign affairs."
Asked by reporters whether Sihamoni would take a wife, former Queen Monineath said:
"Wife? He only feels Buddhist."
Sihanouk explained: "He loves women as his sisters. He dares not to make a deep
relationship... he is a simple man."
The former king said that it was not necessary for Sihamoni to be married as the
Throne Council chooses successors from descendants of three royal bloodlines. Speculation
about Cambodia's heir began as long ago as 1994 when Sihanouk began to worry about
his health. Sihamoni's name has always come up, although he vehemently denied in
1995 that he was interested in the kingship.
But after a string of statements expressing his frustration with the country's lack
of development and political infighting, Sihanouk finally announced on October 6
his intention to retire and called on the Throne Council to choose a successor. His
son from a previous marriage, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh
announced it was an abdication and from that moment things happened remarkably fast.
The Constitution does not provide for the king to be succeeded except on his death,
but critics said this violated Sihanouk's basic human rights and the National Assembly
hastily passed a draft law on October 8 to enact the Throne Council.
The law was endorsed days later by the Senate and Constitutional Council and was
signed into law by the acting head of state, Senate President Chea Sim.
On October 14 the Royal Palace was the venue for an unprecedented meeting of the
nine-member Throne Council which voted unanimously for Sihamoni and at 5pm that day
Chea Sim declared Cambodia had a new king.
World leaders from China, France, Vietnam, Japan, the United States and the United
Nations have paid tribute to Sihanouk's legacy and welcomed his son to the throne.
Sihamoni's first official duty was to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing
on October 18, when he described the Asian powerhouse as a "great friend"
and reiterated Cambodia's support for the 'one China' policy.
The king has vowed to stay out of politics, an indication that he may not comment
on public affairs as often as his father did.
"I will not interfere with the work of the legislature, executive and judiciary,"
said Sihamoni from Beijing before his return.
Sihamoni's many years spent abroad have left some Cambodians wondering who their
new king is. A straw poll conducted by the Post directly after Sihamoni was elected
king found that only eight out of 20 adults recognized their new monarch from a photograph.
Palace watchers say Sihamoni will have big shoes to fill after his father's charismatic
reign, but welcomed his political neutrality, worldly education and gentle nature.
"At the moment, compared with our stallion king, he's a pony," said Lao
Mong Hay, head of legal unit at the Center for Social Development. "He has a
future ahead of him to grow into a personality like our king or better than our king,
we don't know,"