Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday criticized the idea that Cambodia’s next king should be chosen by the people, saying such a proposal was tantamount to republicanism.
“This idea of asking the people to vote for the king is very unusual, and I think it demands more careful examination,” the premier said in a speech broadcast on TVK from a promotion ceremony for monks at Champous Ek pagoda in Kien Svay district, Kandal province. “The procedure of having the people choose is the procedure of a republic.”
Hun Sen appeared to be responding to Prince Norodom Chakrapong’s recent proposal that the king be selected from a ballot of royal family members in a popular vote.
Speaking at a forum on succession legislation on Aug 10, Prince Chakrapong—the son of King Norodom Sihanouk who recently founded his own renegade political party—said an elected king wouldn’t be beholden to any political party and would be free to act purely in the people’s interest.
But Hun Sen said the crown shouldn’t be chosen in the same way as the government. In general, royal appointees should be chosen by Throne Councils, and presidents should be chosen by the people, he said.
“We, the Throne Council, didn’t create this problem [of public selection], but some politicians have gone so far as to suggest it. But they can’t do anything as long as we [the Council] keep silent,” the premier said.
Current legislation has the next king being selected by a nine-member Throne Council made up of the prime minister, the top three officials of each house of parliament and the leaders of the country’s two Buddhist sects. As it stands now, five of those nine are members of the ruling CPP.
Many aspects of the current legislation are vague or problematic. For example, it is not clear what kind of majority of the Throne Council is necessary. King Sihanouk last month told opposition party lawmakers that he was eager to have such matters clarified.
In his speech, Hun Sen depicted Prince Chakrapong’s proposal as being at heart an attack on the institution of the monarchy. “I wonder about the aim of this idea—does this idea want to keep the monarchy or establish a republic?” he said.
A popular vote for king, he said, might lead some people to confuse the royal referendum with royalist politics—by implication, Funcinpec—and might give royalist politicians a chance to capitalize unfairly on their association with the monarchy.
“I only want to remind certain politicians not to wander too far toward the horizon, or they may stumble into hell,” Hun Sen said.
The premier did not comment on another, more moderate proposal—the three-year-old legislation drafted by opposition lawmaker Son Chhay that has recently received a renewed push. Son Chhay and other Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians met with King Sihanouk in July and said the King encouraged him to put the issue on the table.
Under Son Chhay’s draft law, choosing the next king would require a unanimous vote of the Throne Council and would allow the Queen to serve as head of state while a successor is being chosen.