To observers of the country’s politics, the arrival of Prince Norodom Sihamoni on the doorstep of royal dynasty is no surprise.
Many have seen the former ballet dancer, the only living son of King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath, as the favored successor to the throne.
And, ironically, it is the same attributes those observers have cited as Prince Sihamoni’s most favorable—his unassuming manner and outward indifference to politics—that now cast him as an obscure newcomer among the country’s general populace.
“I’ve never seen Sihamoni’s face, I’ve only heard his name,” said Seang Mengly, 25, a university student in Phnom Penh who, like many others interviewed this week, could offer only a scant description of the heir apparent. “I will have to accept him [if he is selected] because he is of royal blood.”
The nine-member Royal Council of the Throne is expected to meet today and elect the 51-year-old Prince Sihamoni as the replacement to King Sihanouk, who announced his abdication last week.
But if selected, Prince Sihamoni will return to Cambodia after more than 20 years of achievements in Europe that have won little attention at home.
Trained since a youngster in classical dance, he has spent much of his adult life choreographing ballets and making films. Until recently he served as the country’s ambassador to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In Cambodia, his public appearances have been few and far between.
His shyness is a departure from the flamboyance of King Sihanouk, who, despite his role as a monarch that “reigns but does not rule,” has left an indelible mark on the political scene by openly criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen and another son, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
“Yes, it’s true that most Cambodians do not recognize Prince Sihamoni, but it is because he is modest and does not play politics,” said Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights group Licadho.
“His father is more experienced, nobody can be compared with him,” she said. “But Sihamoni can be a good king. He can learn from his father.”
The King’s widespread popularity and influence are traits that Prince Sihamoni will have to cultivate. In the meantime, Prince Sihamoni and the vast majority of Cambodians could be engaged in a extensive getting-to-know-you phase.
Un Song, 23, who works for a local NGO, admitted that he knows little about the favored prince’s biography and has seen his face once, on a program broadcast on TVK about a year ago.
“If he becomes the king, then we will have to accept him as the king,” Un Song said with the obedience typical when referring to matters of royalty.
But Hour Sok Sangha, 25, a marketing teacher in Siem Reap province, said he believed Sihamoni will be a good king, albeit in a different manner than his father. Culture, education and worldliness will mark his rule, he predicted.
“He is good, he has many educational degrees,” he said. “And because he has lived abroad for many years, he is familiar with world affairs.”