Chakrapong Proposes King Election

Prince Norodom Chakrapong pro­posed on Saturday that Cam­bo­dians be allowed to elect their next king from a ballot of royal family members, adding a new twist to the debate on succession.

“We should conduct a democratic referendum for the public to se­lect the crown prince out of five or six [royal family] members,” the prince said at a forum on suc­ces­sion legislation sponsored by the Khmer Institute of Democracy.

The vocal prince—son of King Norodom Sihanouk, renegade po­litician and head of Royal Phnom Penh Airways—said this would prevent the next king from being beholden to political interests.

If the next king is voted onto the throne, “No [party] will be op­posed to him and he can guarantee the people’s interests,” the prince said. “First, this will resolve internal disputes within the royal family; second, no politician will be able to influence him, because his power comes from the people.”

Under the current system, in which a council composed largely of politicians is to name the next king, “The [new king] can’t defend the people’s interests because he has been selected by political parties,” Prince Chakrapong said.

The current arrangement has the nine-member Throne Council—the top three officials from each house of Parliament, the prime minister and the leaders of the country’s two Buddhist sects—choosing a successor within a week of King Norodom Siha­nouk’s death.

Of those nine members, five are officials of the ruling CPP.

“The King elected by the council will have to favor a political party out of gratitude,” said Prince Chak­rapong, a former member of Funcinpec who recently split to form his own party. “And when a new government that didn’t select him comes to power, he will have no credibility.”

The succession debate has heated up recently as opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay has re­newed his push for a 3-year-old piece of legislation that would clarify the workings of the Throne Council and the procedures for picking the next monarch. For example, the current law does not stipulate what kind of majority of councilors is needed.

Last month, Son Chhay and other Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers met with the 79-year-old King Sihanouk to discuss their proposals, which include requiring a unanimous vote of the Throne Council and allowing the Queen to serve as head of state while a successor is being chosen. The lawmakers reported that the King responded favorably to their ideas.

At Saturday’s forum, Son Chhay told the audience that the King has stressed the need to clarify the succession process. “The King prefers to have a law in place, so [the discussion] does not offend him,” the lawmaker said.

Previously, succession had widely been considered taboo to discuss, since it hinges on the death of the King.

Son Chhay agreed with Prince Chakrapong’s referendum idea and said he would try to bring it up with National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

On Saturday, Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, proposed that the Throne Council be kept but its composition be changed to “intellectuals—knowledgeable people from civil society who are not involved in politics.”

She also proposed that women members of the royal family be al­lowed to succeed to the throne, pointing out that the Constitution guarantees equal rights to men and women.

A smooth passing of the crown from King Sihanouk to the next monarch “will guarantee stability,” she said. “The King is the symbol of the Cambodian nation and its sovereignty.”

Speculation about who will be the next king has focused on Prince Norodom Sihamoni, who serves as Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Last month Prince Ranariddh, president of Funcinpec, said neither he nor his uncle Prince No­rodom Sirivudh, Funcinpec secretary-general, want to be king. He indicated he would support Prince Sihamoni.

Prince Sihamoni, a dancer who spends much of his time living outside of Cambodia, is considered appropriately apolitical but has repeatedly said he does not want the throne.

King Sihanouk is in Beijing for a medical checkup. His return has not yet been scheduled.


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