Cambodian expats’ opinion on the King’s role
14 May 2009
By San Suwidh
Radio Free Asia
Translated from Khmer by Socheata
Click here to read the article in Khmer
On the occasion of the national holiday celebrating the 56th birthday of King Norodom Sihamoni between 13 to 15 May, San Suwidh is reporting about the opinion of a number of Cambodian expatriates regarding the role of the current king of Cambodia.
King Sihamoni is the son of King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath Sihanouk. He was born in Phnom Penh of 14 May 1953, i.e. 6 months ahead of Cambodia’s access to independence from France.
During his youth, the prince liked to study dance, music and theater. In 1971, he received an award in his competition in classical dance at the Prague national conservatory of music and dance, in communist Czechoslovakia. Between 1976 and 1979, he was detained by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime along with his parents and his younger brother, Prince Norindrapong.
Following his release from the killing fields, he completed several functions involving art, mainly in France. The king is expert in language. He speaks Cambodian, French, Czech and English. While living in Paris in 1993, he directed two films involving ballet: “Soben” (Dream) and “Theat Taing Buon” (The 4 matters).
On 14 October 2004, at the age of 51, he was selected by the council of the throne as the king of Cambodia.
It has been 5 years since the king acceded to the throne. On the day of his crowning, he swore that he will abide by his father’s teaching, and he publicly announced: “What must be remembered forever is pure nationalism. We must clearly avoid all sorts of corruption, and at all time. Everything that we must apply should be aimed at serving the supreme interest, the livelihood of the Khmer nation and people.”
He also announced openly that: “I will be close to all our compatriots, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters, children, nephews, all of you, and I will share your fate forever.”
On the occasion of his 56th birthday, various government officials sent him warm well wishes. Cheam Yeap, a member of the CPP permanent committee and chairman of the National Assembly committee on finance and economy, praised the role of the king, saying: “He has very good opinion, he never embarrass the people, the government or the legislative branch. He always smoothed out the difficult tasks of the government, as well as those of the legislative branch and the judiciary branch.”
Nevertheless, a large number of Cambodians do not know very well their king. Even though he publicly claimed that the palace will not hide anything, and he is spending several days each week to serve his compatriots and meeting the people, in the past 5 years, the king is still unknown to his subjects. More seriously is the fact that Cambodian expatriates have negative opinions of the king.
Sim Huot, a Cambodian-American living in Stockton, California who claims to be a true royalist, is still puzzled about the king’s role: “When the king ascended to the throne, he promised to the people that he will work hard and pay attention to the people in general, he will absolutely oppose corruption, he will labor for his land, such as the border issue for example. But I don’t know what he is doing or not doing. On the border issue, I keep on hearing this issue discussed on Radio Free Asia which I listen to and the people are shouting about corruption, about forced evictions, did the king strongly intervene on these cases? When he ascended to the throne, he promised that he will follow his father’s footstep and he will absolutely oppose all forms of corruption.”
Sieng Sak, a former KR who currently lives in Lowell, Massachusetts, blamed the constitution which ties the king’s hands and does not allow him to do anything. Sieng Sak said: “I believe that King Sihamoni currently is merely a rubber stamp king, to say it bluntly. This is one issue. The second issue, based on the current feelings of Cambodians who respect the king, what King Sihamoni is doing is just enough to calm down Cambodians who want to have a monarchy only, but when speaking about serving the interest of the country, serving the country future peace, he did not do anything about them. The reason I am saying he is not doing anything on these issues is because the constitution is tying him up already, he reigns but he does not rule, so he has no power, he cannot represent anything, he cannot be anybody’s shade simply because he has no power.”
In reply to Sim Huot’s question above regarding the king’s interventions to help his subjects or not, Princess Ang Duon Nim Sophine said: “Regarding the king, it’s not that he is not doing anything to protect his subjects, but it is as if he is under some intense pressure, he is being under intense pressure. What he needs to do, he must ask the authorization from the prime minister. The constitution stipulates that the king has the power to pardon people on certain occasions, such as during the Pchum Ben ceremony, during his birthday, so he must use this prerogative, but I heard that when he asked the authorization [from the PM], they rejected his request. Whatever he tried, he couldn’t do it.”
In the midst of these opinions on the king’s role, Cambodian people are sending wishes to their king on his birthday which happens to be a 3-day holiday also.