By Prime Minister Hun Sen’s account, Cambodia will become a republic if a successor to King Norodom Sihanouk is not named by Thursday.
Such a turn of events would plunge the country into a constitutional quagmire, breaching the very first chapter of Cambodia’s highest law, which clearly states: “Cambodia is a Kingdom with a King.”
But political observers and officials on Monday said the possibility of Cambodia turning into a republic before week’s end is highly unlikely, and questioned Hun Sen’s declaration Sunday of a possible impending end to the monarchy.
“I don’t understand why the prime minister would raise the issue,” said Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho. “For now, nothing is official yet,” she said.
Since National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced Thursday that King Sihanouk had stepped down, it has been unclear whether the monarch’s abdication is final.
The King addressed his abdication notice last week to his son, Prince Ranariddh, Hun Sen and several other political and religious leaders—but did not formally notify the Royal Council of the Throne of his decision, Kek Galabru said. Until he does so, she said, his abdication should not be considered official.
Hun Sen’s announced deadline of Thursday would comply with a new law in the works that requires the Throne Council to appoint a new reigning monarch within seven days of a king’s abdication or death.
But if the King’s abdication is still unofficial, the seven-day deadline should not yet apply, Kek Galabru said.
“The day the Council of the Throne says ‘yes, we’ve accepted the King’s letter,’ then you can count seven days,” she said.
Others also questioned the prime minister’s warning, saying the Thursday deadline appeared arbitrary.
“All the Throne Council members can meet [and choose a new king at] any time,” said Thun Saray, director of the rights group Adhoc.
“It’s not a big obstacle. The political leaders can do it if they have the political will,” he said. “The question is do they want to have a monarchy [any]more or not?”
According to King Sihanouk, the Throne Council should quickly choose his successor to thwart those leaders who may wish to abolish the monarchy.
“[The time] is up for the Throne Council to pick a new king to succeed me in order to avoid any chaos [and] turmoil that will be a good opportunity for certain persons, certain parties to re-establish a republic,” the King wrote Sunday.
Over the past year, the King has expressed concern that the nine-member Throne Council could become deadlocked in its selection of his successor.
Hun Sen raised his own concerns on Sunday that the Council would meet some setbacks in naming a new king by the end of this week.
“I am very concerned. This is an awful situation because if we cannot select a new king [Thursday], there will be objection,” Hun Sen told reporters.
But officials on Monday said they had no intention of delaying the process. Bin Chhin, chairman of the Constitutional Council, said his organization examined the new Throne Council law as an urgent priority.
“We don’t hold it beyond the deadline,” he said, adding: “I dare not comment on people’s talk of a republic.”
Former Constitutional Council member Say Bory also expected a smooth transfer of the throne. “I strongly think in the next few days there will be a new king,” he said.
Despite assurances from politicians and analysts, however, some Cambodians on Monday expressed alarm over the prospect of their country becoming a republic.
“As we experienced in the past, this country cannot become a republic,” said Pinh Thano, 57, from Banteay Meanchey province. “Because the country fell into a republic, we suffered miserably from war and fighting in the past decades, such as in the Pol Pot regime and other regimes that followed.”
Nhok Sopheak, 19, of Svay Rieng province added: “If the country has no king, it would be anarchic because there are many royal families [from the Norodom, Sisowath or Ang Duong royal bloodlines] who would fight for powerful positions.”
She expressed disappointment over the King’s abdication and said she hoped he would reverse his decision and remain head of the monarchy.
“I think King Sihanouk doesn’t understand the people’s suffering,” she said. “If he did, he should stay on.”