Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Legitimacy and Monarchy in Cambodia

By CAMDISC: Khmer Quorum
Cambodia has experienced long rule of monarchy for centuries except from 1970-93. The monarchy is not only a top administrative body, but it is also a real symbol of legitimacy, sovereignty and independence of the country. When the royal institution has gradually lost its power and gotten weaker, many foreigners and politicians have used the monarchy as a tool to gain their political ambition and legitimacy.

Since the beginning of the first century, Cambodia was ruled by many kings, queens, and usurpers who had illegally seized the throne and proclaimed themselves as legitimate rulers. Without proclaiming themselves as a king or a queen, they would lose their legitimacy and recognition from the people. When foreigners had conquered the country, they also crowned the king or queen whom they had chosen. From 16th-19th centuries numerous kings and queens were put into the throne on the wills of Thai and Vietnamese conquerors in order to gain their legitimacy for their occupation.

In 1863, when the French had placed Cambodia under their protectorate, They still preserved the throne for King Ang Duong and his dynasty. The French realized that without the monarchy, they lacked legitimacy to rule Cambodia. The monarchy not only helped to legitimize the French rule, but it performed many functions that cemented the good relationship between the French administrators and the common people. When people discontented with the French administrators, they always brought their complaints to the king and asking him to intervene. Sometimes the king took side with people or vice ver sa. The French also had to balance their own interest with the interest to preserve the throne too.

After independence from France, the monarchy still has been used by many politicians as a tool to gain their popularity and support from the people. In 1970s, Pol Pot used King Sihanouk's popularity and his image to mobilized poor peasants in his revolutionary movement to gain power in 1975. But after Pol Pot completely gained power on his hand, Sihanouk and his family members were put into house arrest, and some of royal family members were killed or starved to death.

In 1979, the Communist Vietnamese had invaded Cambodia and installed their puppet government to rule the country until today. But this government severely lacked its legitimacy because the UN and the international communities did not recognize it except a few countries in the Soviet's Bloc. Until 1990, when Vietnam unilaterally claimed that it fully had withdrawn its troops from Cambodia and allowed a free and fair election supervised by the UN. As a result, the Ex- communist Party (CPP) led by a strong man Hun Sen lost the 1993 election to the Royalist Party (FUNCINPEC). To save his power, Hun Sen proclaimed himself as a faithful royalist and even became an adopted son of King Sihanouk. At the same time, he threatened the civil war if Prince Ranariddh refused to share power with him.

To avoid an unpredictable civil war, Prince Ranariddh forced himself to accept a sharing power formula set by Hun Sen and approved by King father. The new coalition government was formed under a co-premiership of Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Again, Sihanouk was crowned as a constitutional monarch who has limited power in a new constitution. Not much different from his predecessor Pol Pot, Hun Sen has gradually consolidated all power into his hand, and abused all King Sihanouk's constitutional power. Sihanouk then being used as a tool to legitimize Hun Sen's rule. Being abused and violated his constitutional power by Hun Sen, King Sihanouk had abdicated his throne in 2004, and he favored his son Prince Sihamony, who has no political experience and a former ballet dancer, to succeed him. Cambodia constitutional monarchy is meaningless compared to the other constitutional monarchies around the world such as Thai Land, Malaysia, Japan, Britain, Sweden and so on. Thai King, for instance, is highly respected by all Thai people regardless what political and religious faith they have. Thai King sometimes intervenes in political conflicts by using his ultimate constitutional power to solve the problems based on his impartial judgment and wisdom. In 1992, Thai King Phumipon Aduljadej was praised by many political observers when he carefully helped to end a bloody military coup and to restore democracy to his kingdom.

In 2001, when Cambodian mobs orchestrated by Hun Sen, stormed and burned Thai embassy and their business properties in Phnom Penh, and at the same time, Thai demonstrators were ready to storm Cambodian embassy in Bankkok in retaliation, King Aduljadej called for his people to go back home, for he believes that violence cannot subdue by violence but by tolerance.

In 2006, Thai Land again fell into political chaos; a number of large demonstrations on the streets in Bangkok demanding Prime Minister Thac Sin to resign for his corruption and abuse of power. Thac Sin had rejected the demand and continued to rule the country without parliament, which previously dissolved. Legitimacy of Thac Sin's government was in question, and it led to another military coup against the Thac Sin's government while he was outside of the country. Fortunately, no blood had been shed at this time, and the King again had used his constitutional power to appoint a new interim prime minister to rule the country until a new election took place on December 2007 that brought back the pro-Thac Sin party to power. The Thai King is not only a real symbol of unity and legitimacy of the country, but he also represents a source of ultimate power and wisdom, who helps to preserve stability and democracy for the country. On the contrary, Cambodian monarchy is so weak and not represented an ultimate source of power that can help to protect national sovereignty, stability, and democracy in the country even though the new constitution explicitly granted the power to the king in a chaos period. When Hun Sen launched a bloody coup to oust Prince Ranariddh from power in 1997, he ignored all King Sihanouk's calls for peaceful negotiation. And he continued his bloody battle until he gained full control of power. the King 's constitutional power has been deprived by Hun Sen, and he uses the king as a rubber stamp and shield to legitimize his dictatorship. It is very shameful for our country which has claimed to embrace the constitutional monarchy based on democratic principle. In fact, the constitutional monarchy in Cambodia has only a title. In real practice, the country has been ruled by a dictatorial regime.

Pol Pot and Hun Sen are the two famous dictator in Cambodian modern history; they have manipulated the royal institution to gain their legitimacy and political ambition. From now on, our king should no longer be a political captive of any politician. He should adhere to the principle of the constitutional monarchy which states that the king reigns but not rule. In this sense, the king and all royal family members must stay clear from politics in order to protect their royal integrity. But if the politicians violate the king's constitutional power, he should abdicate the throne better than being reigned as a puppet king.


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