Prime Minister Urges Stop To Royal Succession Debate

No Need for Law On Throne Council, Hun Sen Indicates

Prime Minister Hun Sen tried to pre-empt discussion of how King Norodom Sihanouk’s successor will be chosen, deman­ding Wednesday that no public debate be held out of reverence for the monarch.

“A discussion on who will succeed the King is no different than putting a curse on the King to die soon. This is not a joke,” he said at the opening of a Khmer studies conference at Phnom Penh’s Royal University. “I would like to appeal to everyone…even politicians, not to debate on who will take over the throne,” he said. “If a wound doesn’t hurt, don’t poke it with a stick.”

The 77-year-old monarch has had two strokes and suffers from diabetes. In 1993, he was diagnosed with colon cancer, which has gone into remission, though he still travels regularly to Beijing for medical treatment.

Last month, the opposition party sponsored a bill at the National Assembly that would clarify the selection process for a successor for King Sihanouk.

And earlier this week, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy called for a “frank and open discussion” on the issue.

“You cannot make secret arran­gements about succession and then present it as a fait accompli to the Cambodia people. You have to be honest with the people and tell them what is likely to happen,” Sam Rainsy told Agence France Presse on Monday.

Rebuffing Hun Sen’s remarks, Sam Rainsy said Wednesday that raising the issue is not equivalent to cursing the King. “It is showing respect. It’s giving assurance that everything will go smoothly.”

The Constitution, written in 1993, charges the nine-member Royal Council of the Throne with choosing a new monarch within seven days of the King’s death.

The council is made up of the prime minister, National Assem­bly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh—a son of the King—and Heng Samrin and Nguon Nhil, the first and second vice presidents; Senate President Chea Sim and Prince Sisowath Chivan Monirak and Nhiek Bun Chhay, the first and second vice presidents; and the leaders of the country’s two Buddhist sects, Tep Vong and Bour Kry. The CPP holds a majority on the council, with five loyalists compared to Funcinpec’s four.

The Constitution does not state how many members of the

council must agree on the successor. It states only that “the organization and functioning of the Council of the Throne shall be determined by law.”

Hun Sen noted Wednesday that a separate law has yet to be created for the Throne Council because that also “would be like asking the King to die,” he said.

Sam Rainsy reacted to Hun Sen’s comments by recalling a published interview with the King in the monarch’s monthly news­letter, Bulletin Mensuel de Decu­mentation, in which the King himself discussed the issue. “It is with regret that up until now, there is no…law on the method of election for the new king,” the King said in a Nov­ember 1996 interview.

While it is not a popular topic, many people have pushed for a more clearly defined process and better planning. “If the monarchy is to be the highest institution in the nation, there needs to be more involvement from the public,” said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Deve­lopment. “It’s not a private matter. For people to be able to relate to the monarchy, we need the public’s participation.”

However, Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Information and a top CPP spokesman said, “For Cambo­dians, it is very indecent to talk about this while the King is alive, especially when he is sick.”

In his speech, Hun Sen asserted that the King “has no privilege to select his successor,” unlike King Hussein of Jordan, who chose his son to succeed him before he died last year.

“There must be the vote for selection by the Throne Council in which I am a representative. As a member I also have the right to select the King,” said Hun Sen.

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