On the evening of Oct 6, after King Norodom Sihanouk issued notice of his abdication, his son and possible heir Prince Norodom Sihamoni spent hours seeking the advice of one of his closest confidants.
While King Sihanouk was penning his resignation letter, Cambodia’s Supreme Buddhist Patriarch Bou Kry, Prince Sihamoni’s mentor since youth, said Sihamoni was with his charge at the King’s palace in Beijing.
There, the two discussed the prince’s future until the early morning hours.
“I advised him how a king performs to serve the people,” Bou Kry said during an interview at Wat Botum in Phnom Penh Tuesday.
“If people are hungry, you must provide them with food. If they need canals, you must dig canals for them. So the king must serve the people’s needs,” he advised.
Bou Kry, chief monk of the Thammayut Buddhist sect, said he also told the prince to follow closely in his father’s footsteps.
As Cambodian leaders scramble to appoint a successor to the throne this week, Prince Sihamoni has emerged as the leading candidate to become the country’s next reigning monarch.
Prince Sihamoni’s older half-brother, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and Prime Minister Hun Sen—both of whom are members of the Royal Council of the Throne—have indicated their support for Prince Sihamoni to replace King Sihanouk.
And Bou Kry, who is also one of the nine members of the Throne Council, said Tuesday that no other candidate has been named, especially since Prince Ranariddh has declared he is not interested in the throne.
Though declining to reveal whether he would vote for Prince Sihamoni when the Throne Council meets Thursday, Bou Kry said: “Prince Sihamoni deserves the position because it belongs to him.”
Prince Sihamoni, the 51-year-old son of Queen Norodom Monineath, has long been groomed for the possibility of one day inheriting the monarchy, his cousin Oum Daravuth said Tuesday.
“Since he was a kid, he has [had] a lot of education from his parents,” Oum Daravuth said.
Oum Daravuth recalled spending almost every day playing with his cousin as a child, but the two grew apart when Prince Sihamoni left Cambodia in the 1960s to study in Czechoslovakia, where he later trained to become a classical dancer.
Though they seldom see each other now, Oum Daravuth said: “He is a very kind person. Like his father, he is gentle and all the time thinking about the needs of the Cambodian people.”
Another cousin, Prince Sisowath Thomico, described Prince Sihamoni as a perfectionist and “a very private person” with little interest in worldly possessions.
“He likes everything to be perfect and well-organized,” Prince Thomico said. “He lives a simple life.”
In Paris, where Prince Sihamoni served as an ambassador to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, he refused to use his UN vehicle, preferring instead to use public transport, Prince Thomico said.
“In the last few years, if you went to Paris, you could see him in the [subways],” he said.
Bou Kry also described Prince Sihamoni as a man of modest means and a devoted son and Buddhist with few intimate friends. Some say Prince Sihamoni’s introverted nature could help him as king, since it has kept him out of politics and would allow him to be a neutral monarch.
Bou Kry also said Prince Sihamoni is “very frank and honest. Whatever he wants to say, he says…. He’s not the kind of person who hides his feelings.”
When Prince Sihamoni first came under Bou Kry’s guidance in 1981, he was ordained as a monk and stayed in the monkhood for about four months.
During that time, Bou Kry said, Prince Sihamoni often told him stories about his upbringing, when he and his parents were under house arrest by Khmer Rouge soldiers throughout the Pol Pot regime.
One story, in particular, stood out in the monk’s mind as a testimony to Prince Sihamoni’s devotion to rebuilding his country and religion.
While under house arrest at the Royal Palace, Prince Sihamoni was in charge of tending the banana trees on the palace grounds, Bou Kry said.
On one occasion, the young prince found some small broken Buddha statues and brought them back to his parents.
“Together with the King and Queen, they took the Buddhas and fixed them,” he said.