A royal adviser yesterday lashed out at City Hall and the Tourism Ministry for failing to display King Norodom Sihamoni’s picture on large billboards across the capital during the three-day Khmer New Year celebrations that ended on Sunday, calling the omission a devaluing of the throne.
In one-on-one meetings with media outlets, Oum Daravuth, the King’s personal adviser, said it was disappointing that the King’s portrait was not prominently displayed in public places and outside popular hotels in Phnom Penh during last week’s national celebrations, pointing the finger squarely at Phnom Penh City Hall and the Ministry of Tourism.
“It is the mistake of Phnom Penh Municipal Hall that is careless and the Ministry of Tourism that forgot its own obligation,” he said.
Daravuth went on to say that he wasn’t asking for an over-the-top display of the King’s portrait, just that they be placed at important locations, such as Wat Phnom and Independence Monument.
He took particular umbrage with hotels that displayed Santa Claus during Christmas but didn’t decorate or light up portraits of King Sihamoni, late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath.
However, Daravuth could not say whether the practice had been followed in the past, only that he had noticed it this year.City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said that they had put out an announcement in March asking relevant institutions to display the King’s portrait but that it was the responsibility of the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals to organise such displays.
“We did not ignore it. We asked and motivated people to work on this, but how to display is the attention of each institution,” he said.
He added that if City Hall had been given specific guidelines and locations for such decorations they would have followed up on it.
Chhin Ketana, director for the National Committee of Organising National and International Festivals, again passed the buck to “relevant institutions”, saying his body was not responsible for displaying the King’s portrait. “We do not take responsibility for that,” he said.
Tourism Minister Thong Khon, meanwhile, said all hotels had been instructed to display portraits of the three royals, but that some had chosen not to decorate them for the national festivities.
“Any hotel that improperly displays the portraits, we will give them more advice as well,” the minister said.
Social commentator Meas Ny said that the display of the three portraits had seen a decline over the years, even in government offices, adding that there was no clarity or guidelines on the tradition.
Sombo Manara, a historian and professor at the Pannasastra University of Cambodia, said normally the display of the King’s picture on large billboards across the city was reserved for birthdays, coronations or visits by foreign dignitaries and was not synonymous with Khmer New Year celebrations.
He also added that such public displays were more prevalent during the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s reign, who was more iconic in his role as father of the nation, whereas King Sihamoni enjoyed the same reverence, though it was expressed differently by a more modernised society.
“We are still royalists and respect the King. But people are more educated and have experiences from other corners of the world, so they show it differently,” he said. Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga