ROYAL watchers are divided in their opinion over whether Queen Monique is now a contender
to become Cambodia's Monarch upon the King's death.
Speculation that King Sihanouk wants his Queen to succeed him - at least in a politically
approved, care-taker role - was fueled by his recent grant to her of a higher Royal
title. The King has angrily denied such suggestions.
Constitutionally, the Queen is not eligible to become the reigning Monarch - she
does not descend from the three Royal bloodlines - but several observers said this
week that changes to the Constitution could well be possible.
One observer said the choice of Sihanouk's successor ultimately lay with Prince Norodom
Ranariddh - widely considered the leading candidate - and his co-Prime Minister Hun
The key questions were whether Ranariddh would want to be King and, if not, which
candidate he and Hun Sen - "because like it or not, Hun Sen is in charge"
- would support taking the Throne.
Both Prime Ministers sit on the seven-member Throne Council, the constitutional body
charged with choosing the next Monarch.
Some sources claim Ranariddh has privately eschewed the idea of becoming the next
King, saying he preferred to stay in politics.
Ranariddh risked accusations of leaving his royalist Funcinpec party leaderless if
he did vie to be King, one observer noted. Another said the 1998 general election
result would play a critical part in Ranariddh's eventual decision.
Others say that Ranariddh does harbor regal ambitions, and that Hun Sen and National
Assembly President Chea Sim (another member of the Throne Council) would have good
reasons to see Ranariddh King - a further weakening of Funcinpec being one of them.
If Ranariddh choose not to seek the Throne, several observers speculated that the
Queen could reign for a period with the intention of arranging a "smooth succession"
to one of the eligible princes at a later date. The Queen, they suggested, had better
relations with the candidates than the King did.
Constitutional changes to allow the Queen to reign would be impossible without the
Cambodian People's Party's agreement, but sources suggested the CPP could be agreeable.
The Queen was considered apolitical and able to get on with all political parties,
Whether the King would want his wife to succeed him is unclear, though it is widely
believed he has made efforts to "secure the future of his wife" upon his
One close observer of the King noted the Queen had taken a high-profile, officiating
at functions with one or both of the Prime Ministers, in recent months. The King,
for his part, never failed to mention the Queen's name in his speeches.
Public speculation about the Queen was prompted by a Jan 2 decree by King Sihanouk
which elevated his wife's Royal status. He directed that the Queen was to be known
as Samdech Preah Reach Akka-Mohesey, which translates as the Supreme or Eminent Wife
of the Monarch, replacing her previous title of Preah Mohessey.
No reason was given for the change but on Jan 4 King Sihanouk issued a statement
protesting the "injustice" of suggestions that he wanted to choose his
The King wrote that the Queen's previous title could also apply to "the wife
of a great Prince", so the new title added the words Reach (which he translated
as Royal, or of the King) and Akka (eminent).
The King hit out at "certain Cambodian politicians and certain foreigners"
who pretended that he wanted to violate the Constitution "by not letting the
Throne Council do its job to elect, upon my death, the new King of Cambodia..."
The council - comprising the Prime Ministers, the president and two vice-presidents
of the National Assembly and two chief monks - is charged with choosing a successor
to the King within seven days of his death.
The Constitution, which makes no mention of the possibility of a woman becoming the
Monarch, says the new King must descend from the bloodline of King Ang Duong, King
Norodom or King Sisowath. The Queen was born of a French-Italian father and a non-Royal
Potentially, there are dozens of candidates for the Throne, but most speculation
has centered on Prince Ranariddh, Prince Norodom Sirivudh (the King's half-brother),
and Prince Sihamoni (one of Queen Monique's two sons to the King).
The King has previously spoken disparagingly of another of his sons, Prince Yuvaneath,
as being Hun Sen's choice of an "obedient" candidate for the Throne.
While Prince Sihamoni has long been rumored to be choice of the Queen, the King has
several times denied that.
Meanwhile Prince Sirivudh, as one observer noted this week, has effectively been
put "out of the way" by his recent exile from Cambodia, brokered by the
Most recently, the King has indicated dissatisfaction with all potential candidates.
In November he said he was willing to abdicate at any time but challenged his critics
to present to the Throne Council "a Cambodian prince who deserves to be elected"