Cambodia: Succession To The Throne Becomes A Hot Topic

2002

Dr Milton Osborne

There is a pervasive sense of cynicism in Cambodia as to the likelihood that the long-running issue of a Khmer Rouge (KR) Tribunal will ever be resolved. While verdicts have been brought in against Nuon Paet, and most recently against Chhouk Rin, for their part in the abduction and murder of three Westerners in 1994, there is still no sign that the government is prepared to come to an agreement with the United Nations regarding the composition of, and procedures for, a tribunal to try the senior KR figures who are still at large. Leaving aside the motives for the Cambodian government's position on this matter, there is good reason to believe that China is opposed to the tribunal ever being brought into being.

On the domestic political front, there are continuing signs that the royalist National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) is at risk of disintegrating. Dissatisfaction with Prince Rannaridh's leadership and the clear dominance of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has encouraged dissidents to consider changing their allegiance, with credible reports of talks taking place between some FUNCINPEC deputies and the Sam Rainsy Party.

Meanwhile, there has been vigorous discussion about what should happen when King Norodom Sihanouk passes from the scene. For some time there has been an interest in this issue, reflected in the intervention of Prince Norodom Chakrapong, now leader of the Chakrapong Khmer Spirit Party, and others who are calling for the means by which a future king is selected to be reviewed, possibly with a change to popular election.

And now Sihanouk himself has entered the discussion, initially endorsing a review of the draft law regulating the Throne Council, which selects a new king; and then more recently stating that he was ready to abdicate the throne, even in one intervention suggesting that Queen Monineath might succeed him. While this issue may seem of little import, given Cambodia's other problems (including a period of serious drought preceding late rains this year which then resulted in serious floods inflicting heavy damage on the country's infrastructure), it reflects a continuing preoccupation with the role any future monarch might play in the political process. Nonetheless, at present all the most likely male candidates for the throne, including Rannariddh and his half brother Sihamoni, disclaim any interest in becoming king.

WATCHPOINT: What will be the consequences of the continuing stresses in FUNCINPEC as the country waits to see whether Sihanouk will, in fact, abdicate?

 

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