Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk has abdicated because of poor health and asked the country to begin a search for a successor, the head of the National Assembly said today.
The king, aged 81, made the announcement in a letter from Beijing. The note was read to the National Assembly early today by his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is also head of the legislature.
“According to the statement I have received and just read, his majesty has already abdicated,” he said, adding that the news “is very regrettable and shocking for all Cambodians who love him and regard him as sacred”.
Ranariddh said leaders of the country’s ruling coalition planned “to beg” the king to stay on as monarch, and that he would join Prime Minister Hun Sen, acting head of state, and leader of the ruling party, Chea Sim, in seeking permission to visit Sihanouk in Beijing.
Sihanouk had been scheduled to return home today, Ranariddh said.
Hun Sen has departed for Vietnam to attend a summit of Asian and European leaders in Hanoi.
Cambodia’s monarch is not selected according to heredity, but the candidate must have a royal bloodline. Ranariddh has been considered a candidate for the throne in the past, but said he was not interested in filling that role.
Sihanouk has been an influential figure in Cambodian politics for more than half a century, leading the country to independence from French colonialism in the 1950s.
He left Cambodia in January after trying and failing to end the feuding among the country’s political parties that followed inconclusive elections in July last year. In frustration over the squabbling, he threatened several times to abdicate.
The king’s statement asked the country to form a nine-member throne council - as set in Cambodian law – to consider the next monarch. The council would include leaders such as Hun Sen.
In the statement, the king asked he be allowed to "retire" because of his fragile health, saying doctors had detected a “new and serious ailment” in his stomach. The letter did not elaborate.
“I ask all compatriots to please allow me to retire,” the king’s letter said.