King Offers His Views on Succession

Prince Norodom Ranarridh has “problems,” Prince Norodom  Sihamoni has “a chance” and Prince Norodom Sirivudh is tainted by political associations and is unlikely to be selected to become the next monarch, King Noro­dom Sihanouk said in a letter sent from Beijing last week.

The letter, a reply to questions sent by the editorial team of the King’s monthly bulletin, outlines a series of options that the Cambo­dian government could take in the event of King Siha­nouk’s abdication, mandatory retirement, deposition or death.

Cambodia could become a republic, or it could modify the Con­stitution so that Queen Noro­dom Monineath could reign as monarch, the King suggested.

The King also explores the chances of various members of the royal family to be selected as the next King in the letter.

“At the present time, [Prince Ranarridh] has ‘major problems’ of a political nature that drastically reduce his chances of being the new king, whereas in a not-too-remote past, he was the most probable future king,” the King wrote.

Talking about Prince Siha­moni—who is Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organiza­tion in Paris—the King said that “he has ‘a chance’ to be elected the new king but, in spite of the popularity of Queen Monineath, his mother, he would be contested and fought against by frustrated rivals, which would very quickly discourage him in his impossible mission.”

Prince Sihamoni was selected by the King to officially represent him at the Independence Day ceremonies in November, fueling rumors that King Sihanouk was singling him out as his successor, rumors the King strongly denied.

The King also wrote that Fun­cinpec Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh has no chance whatsoever because “of his well-known friendship with the dreadful Leader of the Opposition and (because) of the actions and words of his outspoken sister, Princess Norodom Vacheara,” a Funcinpec parliamentarian.

Prince Sisowath Chivan Moni­reak, the first deputy president of the Senate, has “a chance” of be­ing selected, while Prince Siso­wath Essaro, who is two years older than the King, has just a small chance, the King wrote. He ended his list by saying that the election of a prince with a little-known track record is doubtful.

The Constitution states that the Royal Council of the Throne will select the next king within seven days of a monarch’s death.

If no candidate appeals to council members, King Sihanouk suggests a second option. Plan B would involve modifying the 1993 Constitution for either a man or a woman to sit on the throne. This would make it possible for Queen Monineath to become the reigning monarch, the King wrote.

Plan C would also require modifying the Constitution to make it possible for the Assembly to elect a head of state, who would not necessarily be a prince, and have Queen Monineath serving as the “Symbol of the Throne and Continuity of the Monarchy,” the King wrote. A regency council could also be named instead of a new king, he wrote.

Finally, King Sihanouk said, Cam­bodia could become a republic if enough requests for “republicanization” from the “Sovereign People” are sent to the Assembly. “But, in my humble opinion, Cam­bo­dia’s republicanization would be acceptable only after a national referendum conducted in due form and, if possible, under the appropriate control of the United Na­tions.”

If the “sovereign people” are actually asked, they will not give up the monarchy, Licadho founder Kek Galabru said. In rural areas, where about 85 percent of the population live, the King represents peace and stability, the person they turn to when they lose their land and have no food, she said.

The role of the throne in national unity goes beyond politics, said Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. Having a number of options to consider may help the political process when competing interests show up at succession time, he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has discouraged public discussion on royal succession out of respect for King Sihanouk, stating in January 2000 that this is the reason why the voting procedure for the Council of the Throne has not been clarified.

The King has hinted at abdication several times in the last year. He has not scheduled his return to Cambodia from Beijing.

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