Rapid succession for Sihanouk's son

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 12:00am

Coronation of Prince Sihamoni is set for tomorrow, as council bows to ruler's will

A little-known former classical dance professor will tomorrow be appointed Cambodia's king in a surprisingly rapid handover of royal power.

Observers had predicted parliamentary approval of King Norodom Sihanouk's son and chosen successor, Norodom Sihamoni, would be a protracted process.

But on Monday night, just days after King Sihanouk's abdication, acting head of state Chea Sim signed legislation enabling a nine-member throne council to choose a successor by tomorrow's constitutional deadline.

Prince Sihamoni, 51, also has the backing of the country's most powerful man, Prime Minister Hun Sen, a bitter political rival of King Sihanouk's far better-known eldest son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Cambodia would risk becoming a republic if a successor to the king were not chosen within a week. The Royal Throne Council was swiftly given its powers by 49 of the 51 senators at the meeting on Monday.

The king's role is essentially symbolic, although under the constitutional monarchy, the position is equivalent to a president.

King Sihanouk, who turns 82 on October 31, has been in poor health for many years and spends most of his time in Beijing receiving treatment for cancer. In a letter from the city made public on Sunday, he said Prince Sihamoni - his son with Queen Monineath - was the best successor because he was a 'neutral person not engaged in politics and non-partisan'.

The king and Prince Ranariddh, the leader of the royalist Funcinpec party, have often been locked in political disputes with Mr Hun Sen.

Prince Sihamoni has no political background. He was chosen by the Supreme National Council to be Cambodia's permanent representative to the UN in 1992, and the following year was appointed ambassador to the UN's cultural agency, Unesco.

But it is in the arts that he is best known. Born in Phnom Penh, Prince Sihamoni attended high school in Prague, where he studied dance, music and theatre from 1967 to 1975. For the next year, he studied cinematography in North Korea and later went to Paris, where he became a professor of classical dance.

Since 1984, he has been president of the Khmer Dance Association in France and for the past 14 years, director-general and artistic director of the Ballet group Deva. He is also director-general and artistic director of the Khmer cinematographic society Khemara Pictures.

Phnom Penh-based political analyst Phun Saray said yesterday he believed King Sihanouk's decision to abdicate would enable him to coach his son in the role.

'The new king will get advice and training from his father so that he can reign properly. We need to have a good king for our society,' said Phun Saray, president of the human rights group Adhoc.