Throne Council Selects Sihamoni to be the Next King

Prince Norodom Sihamoni was named the new king of Cambodia on Thursday, with the unanimous approval of the Royal Council of the Throne. In an unprecedented meeting at the Royal Palace, which lasted less than 40 minutes, the nine members of the Throne Council emerged with their decision for the new successor.

“I would like to announce that Prince Norodom Sihamoni was elected by the Throne Council to be the new king,” Senate President and acting Head of State Chea Sim told the Council, as later broadcast by state-run TVK.

“Sihamoni was selected by a 100 percent [vote],” he said.

The vote, which was conducted by secret ballot, was tallied by Prince Sihamoni’s half-brother, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and Prime Minister Hun Sen, both members of the Council.

A coronation ceremony for Prince Sihamoni, 51, a former ballet dancer and the only surviving son of King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath, will take place Oct 29, Prince Ranariddh said earlier Thursday.

Prince Sihamoni will arrive in Phnom Penh with King Sihanouk Oct 20 from Beijing, he added.

Speaking to reporters upon his arrival in Phnom Penh from Beijing, where he was visiting his father, Prince Ranariddh said he had failed to convince King Sihanouk to remain on the throne.

The King penned his resignation letter last week, after months of threatening to step down.

The announcement of his abdication pushed Cambodian leaders to quickly adopt a long-awaited Throne Council law, allowing the Council, which had been inactive since its establishment under the 1993 Constitution, to elect the new reigning monarch.

Though the Constitution states that a king must reign for life, King Sihanouk has expressed his wish to abdicate to ensure national stability and the preservation of the monarchy.

Just days before Thursday’s selection of Prince Sihamoni, King Sihanouk wrote in a message on his Web site that clashes between rival republican factions could result in a blood bath if he did not guarantee the continuation of the throne before his death. He did not specify who was behind the republican factions.

The King, who turns 82 on Oct 31, has also complained of health problems, most recently a stomach ailment and concerns that he may again suffer cancer, for which he was treated years ago.

Prince Ranariddh told reporters that King Sihanouk’s condition had deteriorated since he last saw his father earlier this year.

“His health is not good,” he said. “I am sad that within one month, he has become weaker.”

Prince Ranariddh, whom some analysts had earlier speculated could be a candidate for the throne, said he turned down an offer for the position during his visit to Beijing.

“The King and Queen offered me the throne, but I offer it to Prince Sihamoni,” he said. Prince Ranariddh has said he will continue his career in politics as head of Funcinpec.

Prince Sihamoni, who has spent much of his life abroad, has largely stayed out of the public eye in Cambodia. Those who know him say his gentle manner and worldly education have made him a good choice for King Sihanouk’s successor. As the new king, Prince Sihamoni will also assume the role of the country’s head of state and the supreme commander of RCAF.

Observers said King Sihanouk will likely be instrumental in counseling his son for his new position.

“The new king is not well known [to] the people and [to] the international community so it’s a bit [of a] difficult situation,” said Thun Saray, director of the rights group Adhoc.

“Because [King Sihanouk] still has a lot of influence [with] political leaders and international leaders…I think he will coach his son to be a good king,” he said.

As observers and political leaders turned their attention to the Throne Council’s announcement Thursday, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, whom Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen blamed for King Sihanouk’s abdication, said he was in Thailand “taking some rest while waiting for the dust to settle in Cambodia.”

The opposition leader was blamed for King Sihanouk’s decision to step down after he wrote a letter to Beijing last week, warning that certain powerful persons were plotting violent demonstrations against the King, for which the Sam Rainsy Party would be blamed.

Sam Rainsy said by e-mail that he would return to Cambodia “as soon as a new King has [ascended to] the throne.”

(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith and Wency Leung)

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