The highly sensitive and politically charged question over who will become king on
the eventual death of King Norodom Sihanouk has the King worried, a senior palace
insider has told the Post.
Among the concerns of the King, who recently turned 79 and who has long had health
troubles, is that the law governing the selection of his replacement has still not
"In a private conversation with me, the King said he is concerned that the monarchy
is seen by some politicians as no longer serving the needs of the country, and could
be abolished in favor of a republic," the source said.
"I have noted that a picture is emerging of an isolated and increasingly powerless
King ... We have to clarify the rules before the King passes away," he continued.
He said the question which has been raised recently is over who will eventually replace
King Sihanouk, but the King himself is more concerned over the lack of a law to define
the Throne Council, whose constitutional function is to choose his replacement.
Nearly nine years after the Constitution was promulgated, the law under which the
Throne Council will operate has still not been drafted. The King, the source said,
is concerned that the Cambodian People's Party will use the period immediately after
the King's death to rush through a law that would ensure a new king favorable to
the ruling party.
Under the Constitution, the King has limited powers, but among these are the power
to veto the appointment of high-ranking government officials, from ministers to senior
police and military staff. The King, he said, is concerned that a politically-biased
replacement could act as a mere puppet for the CPP.
The Throne Council is a nine member body composed of the Prime Minister, the presidents
of the National Assembly and the Senate, both deputy presidents of those institutions,
and the leaders of the country's two Buddhist sects, Mohannikay and Thommayut.
Five of the nine are allied with the CPP and four with the royalist Funcinpec. The
Constitution states that the Throne Council must appoint a replacement within seven
days. Article 13 states: "The organization and functioning of the Council of
the Throne shall be determined by law." That law has not been drawn up, and
it is this, the source said, that has the King worried.
Article 12 of the Constitution states that in the event of the King's death, the
President of the Senate "shall take over responsibility as Acting Head of State
in the capacity of Regent of the Kingdom of Cambodia". The Senate President
is Chea Sim, one of the CPP's most senior politicians.
The palace source said few people in Cambodia would openly discuss the succession
process for fear of showing disrespect to the King. He said that reasoning was flawed,
and the topic was being manipulated behind the scenes for political ends to pressure
the royal family.
Opposition MP Son Chhay, who has tried to raise the issue numerous times, agreed
with that assessment.
"The ruling CPP and Funcinpec both accuse me of not respecting the King, but
they are at fault by not respecting the provisions of the Constitution," said
Chhay. "All I have done is draft a law governing the Throne Council, and they
told me that was impolite to the King and that by raising the issue I was looking
to see him die quickly."
Chhay said that several years ago he promised Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk that
he would draft the law and push to have the National Assembly debate it. However
Funcinpec MPs rejected his draft law saying it would allow only full-blooded members
of the Royal Family becoming King, which would exclude Prince Ranariddh, the party
leader, as his mother was not of royal blood.
However, said Chhay, that was merely an excuse to avoid discussing the draft, as
any aspect of the draft law was subject to the approval of the Assembly and could
He said if Funcinpec was interested in retaining the monarchy as a permanent feature
of Cambodia, it would have to encourage debate over the law governing the Throne
"If there is no legislation, I think that when the King dies there will no longer
be any monarchy in the country," Chhay said. He added that the Prime Minister,
as the most powerful person in the country, and his CPP party don't want the legislation,
allowing it to gain political dominance in the one area it does not yet control.
Veteran political observer Dr Lao Mong Hay said that politicians should sit down
and make public the rules of succession, rather than it being subject to a secret
arrangement which is then presented as a fait accompli.
He said Cambodia, unlike neighboring Thailand, does not have a hereditary monarchy,
but selects its kings. As the monarch is very popular in Cambodia and many people
respect him, preparations must be made that are transparent and acceptable to the
"Without knowing [the preparations] in advance, I think the people will be shocked
and surprised if the next king is forced on the people. That will engender criticism,"
said Mong Hay.
"According to the Constitution the next king must be selected seven days after
the death of the reigning King, but the legislation is lacking," he said. "If
it is not done in time, then in the same way as the Electoral Law, it will be pushed
through in a short period, which is not good enough, or there will be a regent."
Mong Hay said that according to the Constitution the concept of a constitutional
monarchy could not be changed, but since the Lon Nol era, which began June 18, 1970,
until 1993 the country's leaders had shown no willingness to re-establish the monarchy.
He said it was unclear whether the CPP even wanted a monarchy.
"The constitutional monarchy cannot be changed, but if public opinion is galvanized,
then it would be possible to abolish it," said Mong Hay. "However I have
noted that the Cambodian people feel they still need the monarchy. The 1993 elections
were a reflection of the popularity of King Norodom Sihanouk."
Both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh have held to the view that official
debate about the legislation governing the succession would be impolite to the King
and give the impression that those raising the issue wanted him to die quickly.
"However I think that is not the real reason, and is down more to political
intentions," he said.
He added that according to the Constitution, Queen Monineath cannot succeed her husband,
but he said her experience meant she was the best choice, and the Assembly could
approve her. Her association with King Sihanouk over almost 50 years meant she had
developed sharp political skills.
"If Khmers choose her to sit on the throne, Cambodia could show the world it
is not subject to racial discrimination," said Mong Hay, alluding to her mixed
The palace source said he wanted to see the monarchy play its role fully as defined
in the Constitution. The King is regarded as a symbol of national unity, and a guarantee
for the continuity of the state, he said, and it should not be the job of Hun Sen
to take on those functions when the King passes away.
He said King Sihanouk has twice asked Prince Ranariddh to renounce politics and train
for the position as Cambodia's next king, but the Prince has declined to do so. The
most likely candidates after Ranariddh, he said, were Prince Norodom Sihamoni, who
currently lives in France, and Funcinpec secretary-general Prince Norodom Sirivudh.
Ranariddh told reporters on June 25 that the matter of the throne was not a priority
for him, and said the more important task was to concentrate on electoral reform
ahead of the general election scheduled for July 27, 2003.
"We should not talk about succession while the King is still alive and in good
health, as he is today," Ranariddh said. "The issue of the general election
needs to be solved to bring credibility, justice and a genuine democracy to Cambodians.
This will go hand in hand to strengthen the monarchy."
The Constitution states that any male descendant of King Norodom, King Ang Duong
or King Sisowath, and who is 30 or older is eligible. There are around 60 possible
candidates, the palace source said.
King Sihanouk first became King in 1941 at the age of 18. In recent years he has
suffered two strokes, and he also has diabetes. In 1993 he was diagnosed with colon
cancer, and he frequently travels to Beijing for treatment. He will travel to China
later this month for further medical care.
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