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Can the monarchy stand tall?

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. With all the recent political turmoil, some look to the monarchy for guidance and inspiration, while others are watching closely to see what role the monarchy will play, if any, in the future of the country. Hong Menea

Can the monarchy stand tall?

Dear Editor,

The post-election political deadlock followed by a seemingly hasty approbation of the new parliament by the reigning monarch amid an opposition boycott and unsettling public protests have baffled the nation and intractably cast a dark cloud over the integrity and the raison d’être of the monarchy.

With the future of the Kingdom hanging in the balance – a direct result of politicians’ risky habits of political brinkmanship – the fundamental and impartial roles of the sovereign within the current framework of a constitutional monarchy have emerged to be a passionate subject of debate and deliberation among Cambodians at home and the diaspora.

At issue are inherent legal and moral obligations and responsibilities of the monarchy toward the Kingdom. In that regard, the prevalent sentiment or more so general expectation is almost exclusively that the monarchy be more forthcoming and emphatically exercise its influences to help defuse the present political impasse while remaining within acceptable boundaries of the constitution.

It may seem paradoxical; nonetheless, this is the basis on which the monarchy is being looked upon by commoners and will be judged by history.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the monarchy was the synonym of a larger-than-life ruler with absolute power who virtually engaged in and decided on every facet of life in the Kingdom. Back then, the monarchy had many attributes – some were more admirable than others, naturally.

But one attribute that really stood out and earned profound respect from all was the monarchy’s genuine and tireless efforts to gracefully reach out to and stay connected with ordinary people in every corner of the Kingdom.

Today’s monarchy, critics point out, has evidently lost its once-priceless Royal touch with the people it represents. While such regrettable loss is widely blamed on the present constitutional monarchy system which radically narrows the powers and roles of the reigning monarch, it is also being perceived by sceptics as either an absence of will, a withdrawal of sense of duty, or both on the monarchy’s part in the face of hard political realities.

Everyone knew or understood from the very beginning of its implementation 22 years ago that the constitutional monarchy system would austerely marginalise the monarchy’s involvement in the nation’s politics.

Such marginalisation – a deliberate intent for some and a necessary compromise for others – was seemingly what the Kingdom needed at the time in order to restore peace and move forward.

Few, if any, however, could have possibly imagined that such a monarchical system might one day become a comfortable refuge and convenient pretext for the monarchy to royally relieve or absolve itself from virtually all obligations and responsibilities toward the Kingdom.

Nor would anyone have foreseen the extent or degree to which it has constantly been distorted and systematically exploited over the years by powerful politicians and their opportunistic cohorts, practically turning the monarchy into an official rubber stamp for monopolising and legitimising their power.

In retrospect, there is a shared sense across the political spectrum that (the European model of) constitutional monarchy was a political commodity which had widely been overbought with inflated optimism during the 1991 Paris Peace Accords’ negotiations.

Two decades later, its promises remain manifestly more rhetoric than fact, if not already shattered by its unintended consequences.

If nothing else, these unintended consequences do reinforce the point that the constitutional monarchy, as we have learned, is far from being a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, it invariably comes with different flavours.

To benefit the country, it must be judiciously cultivated and constantly adapted to the underlying dynamics of our changing socio-political environment.

All that not only fuels the public’s reflection over the role of the sovereign, but also raises an important question as to what does the future hold for the monarchy? For sure, many will keenly try to conjecture; but ultimately, no one is in a better position to answer that question than the monarchy itself.

There is no doubt that the monarchy is facing challenging times ahead. That being the case, its future is most likely shaped by two decisive elements – its will to stand up to political pressures, compulsion or coercion that keep denying the country the best chance for securing social justice and democracy; and its capacity to reinvent itself.

In a country that has yet to reach political maturity, it is clear that the monarchy’s integrity and impartiality can constitute an essential counterweight to the power that be and prevent the Kingdom from drifting into a full-blown authoritarian state.

At a time of heightened political turmoil, and the worst has yet to come, all eyes are now on the monarchy to see which path it will choose. Will it remain mostly MIA on issues that deeply affect the lives of so many ordinary people and their aspirations for a better future, or be part of a solution that is in tune with the people’s wishes?

The Kingdom has an inexorable appointment with democracy, and it will be there with or without the monarchy by its side. This is a defining moment, and perhaps best chance, for the monarchy to reinvent itself; rekindle the deeply-rooted bond between Crown and people; and reclaim its stature as a beacon of hope and a symbol of service, commitment and affection for the country.

It is with humility that most of us, from near and afar, are closely watching and unreservedly wishing all the best for the reinvention of the monarchy, our country’s most enduring and revered institution; and continue to offer unwavering support, each in her or his own way, to our beloved Kingdom that desperately but peacefully struggles to chart its way to democracy, social justice and rule of law.

Davan Long

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