Throne Safe, Hun Sen Says

But PM Admits Royal Selection Process is Vague

After a week of impassioned exchanges over the succession of the throne, Prime Minister Hun Sen promised Monday that only an “aggressive military coup d’etat” could end the monarchy.

But he acknowledged that details for choosing a successor to 77-year-old King Norodom Sihanouk are vague.

According to the Constitution, the country will remain a monarchy after the death of the King, Hun Sen told a regional meeting of newspaper editors here.

“Don’t expect Cambodia to be­come a republic,” he said. “Only a coup de’tat could make Cam­bodia a different regime. But that would still be illegal.”

The National Assembly, he added, does not have the power to abolish the monarchy. “If they change the Constitution on the issue, it is a Constitutional coup d’etat,” he said. “Even though they are elected by the people and want to change from a kingdom to a republic, that is impossible.”

Anyone pushing for a republic, he said, “will be labeled a coup maker.”

Hun Sen emphasized that the nine-member Throne Council will select the next monarch by vote within seven days of the King’s death, but admitted shortcomings in the plans for the body, which has never met.

“It will be carried out by the Throne Council, though whether it will be by majority, two-thirds majority, or by consensus, has not been discussed yet,” Hun Sen said.

The Constitution dictates that the council—made up of Hun Sen (CPP), National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh (Fun), first vice president Heng Samrin (CPP), second vice president Nguon Nhil (CPP), Senate President Chea Sim (CPP), first deputy Prince Sisowath Chivan Monirak (Fun) and second deputy Nhiek Bun Chhay (Fun) and Buddhist leaders Tep Vong and Bour Kry—selects the next king but does not say how. Political analysts have regularly said that Tep Vong is loyal to the CPP leadership and Bour Kry to Funcinpec.

National Assembly members Sam Rainsy and Son Chhay of the opposition party have asked in recent weeks that lawmakers review the uncertainties of the successor selection process and specify how many Throne Council members must agree on a choice, but the leadership has not responded.

The Throne Council, Hun Sen said, has complete control over the process, implying the King will have no say in who succeeds him. “Elected monarchy is different than the appointed monarchy in Japan or Jordan,” he said. “In Japan, the King has the right to appoint his son or one of the princes.”

Several analysts have said recently that the King’s successor should be known in advance, as in countries with hereditary monarchies, to ensure a smooth transition when the King dies.

Hun Sen said Monday there would be no problems with the transition. “Keeping social stability after the king dies rests on the executive body,” he said. “I can guarantee there will be no throne crisis.”

He also dismissed speculation that he made a deal with Prince Ranariddh for him to succeed the throne.

“Some people thinks there was a quiet agreement between a number of people,” he said, acknowledging that he spoke with Prince Norodom Ranariddh about succession in March, 1999. The notion that there was an agreement, he said, “is not valid.”

On Sunday, Prince Ranariddh—the National Assembly president and a possible successor to the throne—urged people not to talk of succession.

The prince’s father is scheduled to leave this week for Beijing for two months of medical treatment. Several times in recent months, the King has canceled appearances because of his health and made public announcements reiterating his poor health.

But the situation is good, Hun Sen said Monday. “His Majesty the King is still in good health,” he said, but added “No one is immortal.”

(Reported by Pin Sisovann, Ham Samnang and Chris Decherd)




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