A draft law allowing for the abdication and succession of King Norodom Sihanouk was passed Monday in the Senate and Constitutional Council, setting the stage for an unprecedented meeting of the Royal Council of the Throne this week to possibly select a new reigning monarch.
The draft, which sets forth the Throne Council’s protocol for naming a successor in the event of a king’s abdication, passed with little debate in the Senate and was deemed legal later in the day by the Constitutional Council. Senate President Chea Sim, acting head of state in King Sihanouk’s absence, signed the final draft into law late Monday.
Officials said the law will enable the Throne Council to meet later this week, when it is expected to name Prince Norodom Sihamoni as King Sihanouk’s successor. The King announced his retirement last week through a statement read by his son, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
The King has since affirmed his intentions to abdicate through a statement posted on his Web site, despite a chorus of pleas from members of the Royal
family, Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials that he retain his throne.
The King, now in Beijing, has said he will return to Cambodia only after a law outlining a procedure for his abdication is adopted. His ultimatum follows months of intense criticism of Hun Sen’s government and bickering between the three main political parties.
The 81-year-old King, who has said he supports Prince Sihamoni as his successor, says he intends to retire to a palatial home in Siem Reap and nurse his many ailments.
Overseeing the Senate session Monday in Chea Sim’s absence, Prince Sisowath Chivan Monireak reiterated the mantra spoken by the country’s leaders over the past week by first imploring King Sihanouk to stay on as monarch, then throwing his support behind Prince Sihamoni. Prince Sihamoni, the 51-year-old son of King Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath, is the country’s former ambassador to Unesco and leading candidate to succeed his father.
The law adopted Monday passed with the approval of 49 of 51 senators in attendance at the emergency session. It passed the Assembly last week.
It calls for a simple majority of the nine-member Throne Council to elect a successor and gives the abdicating king no say in who succeeds him, against the suggestions of a handful of opposition senators who argued that such a provision allows for CPP-aligned members to dominate the vote.
A Thursday 4 pm deadline for a chosen successor now approaches with uncertain expectations of a Throne Council that has never met and to date has existed only in the vague letters of the Constitution.
Hun Sen told reporters on Sunday that Cambodia could become a republic if the Throne Council fails to meet and forge a decision before Thursday’s deadline. The premier was citing a Constitutional article outlining a seven-day time limit for selecting a successor King, commencing with the monarch’s announcement last week.
As outlined in the Constitution, the Council will consist of the top three members of the Senate and the Assembly as well as the premier and the country’s top two monks.
Prince Ranariddh, who left this weekend to visit the King in Beijing, delayed his scheduled return Monday to Phnom Penh and is now expected to return later in the week.