Retired King Puts Twist on Abdication

A day after King Norodom Sihamoni was named Cambodia’s new monarch, his father said he had not abdicated but had taken to “retirement,” leaving some observers baffled over how to interpret retired King Norodom Sihanouk’s surrender of the throne.

By retiring as King, Norodom Sihanouk said, he has avoided violating his ­prom­­ise in Au­gust that he would not abdicate until he received permission to do so from Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, one of Cam­bodia’s top Bud­dhist monks.

“[I] took the decision not to ab­dicate but to take my retirement as King (too old and ill). This al­lows me to give up the Throne all [without] violating my promise,” he wrote in a letter posted on his Web site, dated Friday.

In his message, Norodom Si­hanouk added that despite his so-called retirement, he wished to continue to serve the country “as a (very old) retired ‘public servant’” for the rest of his life.

After years of threatening to abdicate, on Oct 8 the 81-year-old King wrote to his son, National As­sembly President Prince

Nor­­­o­­­dom Ranariddh, Prime Min­ister Hun Sen and several other political and religious leaders, saying he had “already re­tired.”

That letter prompted Prince Ranariddh to announce King Sihanouk had essentially abdicated. In the days following, King Sihanouk stood by his decision to relinquish the throne, and also referred to it as his “abdication.”

In response, the Royal Council of the Throne unanimously se­lected King Siha­moni as the new king Thursday afternoon.

A coronation ceremony for King Sihamoni is scheduled for Oct 29. However, some legal scholars, in­cluding Lao Mong Hay of the Center for Social Development and former Cam­bodian Bar Association president Ang Eng Thong, have questioned the constitutionality of King Sihanouk’s departure and King Sihamoni’s ascension.

They pointed to Article 7 of the 1993 Constitution, which states “The King shall be the Head of State for life.”

As such, the King cannot legally abdicate, but may instead relinquish his authority to Senate Pres­ident Chea Sim, the acting head of state in the event of the King’s illness or absence from the country, Lao Mong Hay said Friday.

Koul Panha, director of the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections, agreed.If King Siha­nouk has retired, instead of abdicated, Koul Panha said, “I think maybe there’s no need to appoint a new king. We can delegate all the work to Chea Sim.”

The Senate president would thus take over the duties of signing sub decrees and royal de­crees, he said. In the meantime, the retired king should receive a pension from the country for the rest of his life, Koul Panha added.

But since the Throne Council elected King Sihamoni as the new king, Koul Panha said, Cam­bo­dian leaders have created a situation where “they have two kings already.”

“I don’t know how they interpret this situation,” he said Sun­day.

Senior CPP parliamentarian Cheam Yeap, who helped push for­ward the Throne Council law, said that whether Norodom Sihanouk abdicated or retired is simply a matter of semantics.

“The words ‘retire’ and ‘abdication’ are just synonyms. It’s the same meaning,” he said Sunday. “The King’s word ‘retirement’ just means abdication.”

Cheam Yeap said that Nor­odom Si­hanouk would nonetheless enjoy all of the rights be­stowed to his successor, including inviolability and a state-funded monthly allowance. He added that he could not reveal Nor­odom Si­hanouk’s allowance, saying, “no one can define it for the King.”

In a separate message posted on his Web site Saturday, Noro­dom Sihanouk defended the legitimacy of King Sihamoni’s status as the new reigning monarch.

When then-King Sihanouk first gave up the throne in 1955, he wrote, “no one contested the le­gality of my abdication, even when in the Constitution no article mentioned a possible abdication of the King.”

He added: “In the other King­doms, the reigning Kings and Queens have always been able to abdicate if they desired it.”

He did not elaborate on the pro­tocol for a king’s retirement.

Norodom Sihanouk pointed to the congratulatory messages to King Sihamoni from countries around the world, saying they legitimized the appointment of his 51-year-old son.

Those countries, including the US, France, China and Vietnam, “have just formally recognized the legality of the election of King Norodom Sihamoni,” he wrote.

Calls made to Tep Vong, one of the two Buddhist leaders in the Throne Council who voted for King Sihamoni, went unanswered on Sunday.



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