Inside the Royal Palace’s gilded rooms, the country’s top leaders spoke solemnly and attained all the proper trappings of a royal drama to convene the selection of the first new monarch in more than 60 years.
Outside, however, it was business as usual.
Ordinary Cambodians strolling the riverfront, with the police roadblocks and barricades around the Palace’s entrance in sight, took little notice of the meeting.
If a question arose about their iconic King Norodom Sihanouk’s successor, it was quickly followed by the simple question: King who?
“Oh, yes, I heard about this on the radio, about a new king, but I can’t remember the name,” said Siek Seang Oy, 60, seemingly surprised by a reporter’s questions regarding the election of the new king.
With two grandsons at her side, she doled out 100-riel notes to an amputee before going into a riverfront spirit house to receive a blessing.
“I just remember [the new King] is going to be the King’s son…. Really, I’m not interested,” she said.
Whether it’s a general uncertainty of King Sihanouk’s announced abdication—the King has hinted at such a move for years—fatigue with politics or the relative anonymity of the chosen successor Prince Norodom Sihamoni, the change of king is yet to generate much buzz among ordinary Cambodians.
The King’s abdication, announced last week, has been met at home largely with blank looks and shrugs, even as it has received enormous attention in international media.
Of several people briefly interviewed on the riverfront on Thursday, as proceedings were being conducted in the nearby Royal Palace, none granted the event much gravity.
“I had heard about the establishment of the Throne Council, but I didn’t know they had a date to select a new king. And I don’t know the candidate’s name,” said Bun Sok Eang, a 21-year-old high school student from Kompong Cham province.
He admitted that he had little interest in Royal affairs, then returned to his conversation with two young ladies perched on a riverside bench.
A few meters farther, a monk looked across the river, his back turned to the motorcades carrying Prime Minister Hun Sen, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and other notables on the Throne Council which gathered Thursday.
His thoughts were elsewhere.
“Other monks follow this story, but I don’t care. Not many people are interested, because as much as the King talks about power, he has none,” said Khuon Noeun, 20.
Of those interviewed, only photographer Chen Samoeun, 47, appeared to have interest in the affairs unfolding inside the Royal Palace. He patted a portable radio in his front shirt pocket and said he was trying to stay up to date.
“Other people don’t know about any of this, because they don’t care about the monarchy,” he said.
“The monarchy will continue, but it will never be like the days of Sangkum Reastr Niyum,” he said.