Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday dubbed Prince Norodom Sihamoni the “only suitable candidate” to be king of Cambodia if King Norodom Sihanouk refuses to withdraw his abdication.
Returning from the Asia-Europe Meeting in Hanoi, Hun Sen told reporters that the Royal Council of the Throne, which is responsible for appointing a new monarch, plans to select Prince Sihamoni as King Sihanouk’s successor on Thursday.
“Most of the members [of the Throne Council] support Prince Norodom Sihamoni to be the next king,” he said upon his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport. Hun Sen also expressed skepticism that King Sihanouk would reverse his decision to abandon the throne.
“Although there is an appeal from the people, monks and [National Assembly President] Prince Norodom Ranariddh for the King to stay on the throne, the hope seems to disappear,” he said.
Prince Ranariddh left Phnom Penh on Saturday for Beijing, where King Sihanouk is in self-imposed exile, to urge the
81-year-old monarch not to step down. The prince announced King Sihanouk’s abdication on Thursday.
In a letter dated Sunday, the King reiterated his decision to abdicate and said he would return to Cambodia only after the Council selects a new king.
“If the Throne Council cannot choose a new king, please compatriots, forgive me. I will not return to the country,” he wrote.
The announcement of King Sihanouk’s abdication left lawmakers scrambling last week to draft a long-awaited Throne Council law that outlines the Council’s procedure to select the King’s successor.
The draft law, which requires a new reigning monarch to be appointed seven days after a king dies or abdicates, was hastily passed by the Assembly on Friday. It still must be approved by the Senate and the Constitutional Council.
Though the Senate is scheduled to pass the law today, Hun Sen said Sunday he is worried the law will not be finalized in time to allow the Council to choose a new king within seven days of King Sihanouk’s notice of abdication.
“I am very concerned. This is an awful situation because if we cannot select a new king [Thursday], there will be objection” that the Throne Council does not comply with the new law, he said.
“By Oct 14, if we cannot select the new king, Cambodia will become a republic. There is a throne but no king,” Hun Sen said.
Apparent support from the nine-member Throne Council for Prince Sihamoni, the 51-year-old son of King Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath, would limit the chances for his older half-brother, Prince Ranariddh, to become king.
Hun Sen said Prince Ranariddh should not be considered for the throne, so that he may remain the president of Funcinpec and the CPP’s coalition partner in the government.
“It is necessary for Prince Norodom Ranariddh to remain in politics so that he can lead Funcinpec, and the CPP and myself will not lose a good partner,” he said.
In recent months, Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh, both of whom are members of the Throne Council, have repeatedly thrown their support behind Prince Sihamoni as a candidate for the head of the monarchy.
In a separate letter, also dated Sunday, King Sihanouk said he will groom Prince Sihamoni “to fulfill his duty as king for the country, like his father.”
However, the King added, there are many princes from the Ang Duong and Sisowath royal families from which the Throne Council can make its selection.
He added: “If the Throne Council can quickly select a new king, I will quickly return to the country.”