Nearly every day for the past two years, retired King Norodom Sihanouk has posted messages on his Web site, sharing with readers his views on everything from domestic and international politics to football and gay marriage.
His Web site, www.norodomsihanouk.info, has received more than 420,000 hits since its launch in 2002.
And with a current average of 2,000 visitors a day, it has become a popular source of information from the now-retired Norodom Sihanouk.
Norodom Sihanouk’s adviser Prince Sisowath Thomico said he first suggested the idea of creating a Web site for the 82-year-old monarch as an economical way to publish his writings and archived documents.
“The King has a lot of documents, so if he has a Web site, he does not have to print the documents and spend a lot of money,” Prince Thomico said.
Sometimes scathing and usually darkly humorous, Norodom Sihanouk’s Web messages have often stirred debate.
In one of his more controversial postings, he wrote a series of letters in February in support of equal rights for gays and lesbians and advocating same-sex marriage in Cambodia.
While many people around the world cheered his views, others balked and some even wrote scornful emails attacking his stance.
In response to what appeared to be hate email, Norodom Sihanouk posted a message, saying: “Gays and lesbians would not exist if God did not create them.”
He added: “I am not gay, but I respect the right of gays and lesbians. It’s not their fault if God makes them born like that.”
Norodom Sihanouk has also posted messages on his Web site opposing the display of human skulls and bones in exhibitions on Khmer Rouge brutality, welcoming Montagnard asylum-seekers into the country and challenging the government’s crackdown on public demonstrations.
“[O]ur Constitution allows peaceful demonstrations. The bans and repressions [of peaceful protests] are anti-Constitutional,” he wrote.
Regarding international affairs, he has expressed his disapproval of the US-led war in Iraq, shown sympathy toward the Palestinians in the Middle East conflict and given his endorsement to US Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
In lighter moments, he has published messages cheering the French national football team and remarking on the beauty of Cambodia’s “modern women.”
Most of his handwritten letters, however, focus on his leadership during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime in the 1950s and 1960s.
According to Chhorn Hay, secretary-general of the Royal Palace, Norodom Sihanouk wants people to remember brighter periods of Cambodia’s history.
Chhorn Hay, who helps post messages to the site, said in January that Norodom Sihanouk spends between five and 15 minutes nearly each day, writing at least one message for the site.
Usually penning his texts in French, Norodom Sihanouk has faced criticism from some who claim he should write his messages in Khmer or English so that more of his compatriots can understand them.
To those, Norodom Sihanouk replied that anyone who doesn’t understand his messages should forget about trying to do so.
“I ask the people who aren’t strong in French to no longer seek to understand my texts written in French,” he wrote. “As we say it in Khmer: ‘It’s not a life and death matter’ (the texts written in French from Norodom Sihanouk would not have vital importance for those who are not of measure to understand them).”
Messages intended for his compatriots are written in Khmer, he wrote.
He added: “Second, I cannot write my daily text and others in English because I’m not strong enough in the language of Shakespeare.”
During his prolonged stays in Beijing and Pyongyang this year, Norodom Sihanouk often used his Web site to criticize political leaders at home—particularly over the prolonged government deadlock—and to lament the state of the nation.
He also posted doctors’ reports of his health, which he claimed was declining.
And increasingly over the past few months, his messages carried threats of his impending abdication.
Early this month, Norodom Sihanouk shocked the country when he issued a letter to National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and other top political and religious leaders, informing them he had “already retired.” That letter was posted on his Web site within hours.
But in the days following his son King Norodom Sihamoni’s appointment to the throne, Norodom Sihanouk erased any doubt over whether he would continue writing for his Web site.
Over the past two weeks, he has posted dozens of letters and historical documents on the Internet.
And among links to his “Royal Songs” and “Filmographie”, a new link has emerged—that of the new King’s Web page.
On King Sihamoni’s Web page, so far, are his biography, letters in response to political leaders and foreign diplomats congratulating him on his appointment to the throne and his initial address to the nation.
Though King Sihamoni does yet not have his own independent Web site, Prince Thomico said, “I hope he will have his own soon.”