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.