Princess Norodom Vacheara said last week that she favors open discussion of royal succession and reform of the legislation that governs the choice of Cambodia’s next monarch—breaking rank with Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
The princess, a popular and outspoken Funcinpec National Assembly lawmaker, said she was worried that the next king would be a political pawn rather than a neutral representative of his nation and people.
“If he is appointed by politicians, the next king will be like a puppet—he will do whatever the politicians want,” Princess Vacheara, recently returned from France, said in an interview on Thursday.
Because of such concerns, she said, succession should not be a taboo subject. “Discussion of the successor to the throne should be open to the public,” she said. “My personal idea is…it is not wrong to discuss succession, because both royals and commoners are human beings.”
By taking such a stance, the princess—half-sister of King Norodom Sihanouk—puts herself at odds with Funcinpec President Prince Ranariddh, the King’s son. Beyond asserting that he is not interested in the throne, Prince Ranariddh has declined to discuss the issue out of respect for his father.
Although the King himself, through intermediaries and in writing, has said he believes succession should be discussed, Prince Ranariddh is not the only one to shy away from the topic. Prime Minister Hun Sen has insisted that discussing a replacement for King Sihanouk is an insult to the aging monarch.
In recent months, the topic has heated up as opposition lawmaker Son Chhay has renewed his push for legislation to reform the succession process.
The legislation has been stalled in a National Assembly committee for three years. In July, Son Chhay and other opposition legislators met with the King and presented him with their proposals, sparking a new flurry of interest in the subject.
Currently, the 1993 Constitution that restored King Sihanouk to the throne provides for the next king to be chosen within a week of King Sihanouk’s passing by a nine-member Throne Council composed of the prime minister, the top three officials from each body of Parliament, and the heads of Cambodia’s two Buddhist sects. Under the current government, five of those positions belong to the ruling CPP.
But current laws do not specify crucial matters such as what kind of majority of the Throne Council is required. In their July meeting, King Sihanouk reportedly told Son Chhay that he believed clarification was needed, although he did not say whether he supported Son Chhay’s particular proposals, which would require a unanimous Throne Council vote.
On Thursday, Princess Vacheara did not refer to the opposition legislation, but she did speak strongly in favor of changing the current Throne Council makeup. “There should be a strong Throne Council composed of professionals and senior dignitaries—independent people—rather than people from political parties…as dictated in the Constitution,” she said.
Referring to the current makeup of the Throne Council, she said, “I don’t want these political leaders to stay on the council because if we want the next king to be neutral and independent …we have to put the king above the political parties.”
She added, “If [politicians] appoint the king, the king will inevitably serve them.”
Although most members of the royal family have been mum on the succession issue, Princess Vacheara is not the first to speak out. Her nephew Prince Norodom Chakrapong has called for the king to be elected by the people—an idea Hun Sen called tantamount to republicanism.