Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk declared today that his son, Prince Norodom Sihamoni, is ready to accept the crown to resolve a political crisis triggered last week when the 81-year-old monarch announced he would abdicate.
The pledge came in a letter read on Cambodian state-run television, hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen said lawmakers must work day and night to complete the process of choosing a new king or risk the country becoming a republic.
Hun Sen said it has become increasingly unlikely that Sihanouk will heed pleas from the country’s political leaders to rescind his decision to step down, although they would continue trying.
Sihanouk appeared to stick to his decision today, saying he was “very moved” by calls for him to stay in power but that the “time has come already for the Throne Council to choose a new king to replace me.”
Sihanouk’s letter from Beijing said the 51-year-old Sihamoni – better known for his ballet than political skills – would make a suitable king and was “a neutral and impartial person who is not engaged in politics.”
Sihamoni, a former ballet instructor, did not want to be king, Sihanouk said, but would take the job if selected by the Throne Council, which must meet an October 14 deadline to chose a new ruler.
Sihanouk vowed to help him “so that he can fulfil his duty successfully as a king for the nation and the people, like me, his father.”
Sihanouk noted that his more politically experienced oldest son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, had declined to be considered for the post. Ranariddh is a long-time rival of Hun Sen, the most powerful man in the country.
Hun Sen said earlier that Sihamoni – the son of Sihanouk and Queen Monineath - is the only realistic candidate. But he sounded a note of alarm in his first public comments on the king’s abdication, warning that the country must complete the complicated succession process soon.
A Throne Council, yet to be established because legislation urgently passed by the house last week has not yet been completely ratified, must meet by law by October 14.
Lawmakers “must work day and night to prevent our country from slipping into a republic,” Hun Sen told reporters at the airport on his return from a summit of Asian and European leaders in Vietnam.
Sihanouk has often been at odds with Hun Sen, but he has long been seen as a stabilising figure amid Cambodia’s turbulence. Most Cambodians consider him as being akin to a god-king, so a threat to the monarchy might cause public unrest.
Sihanouk, who turns 82 at the end of this month, bewildered his countrymen with his abdication announcement last Thursday, the same day Hun Sen left for the Vietnam meeting.
Ranariddh, head of the national assembly, flew to Beijing Saturday to try to persuade his father to change his mind.
Sihanouk has been abroad since January – mostly in the Chinese capital, where he has a house – to receive health care, and to protest the failure of Cambodia’s leaders to solve numerous social and economic problems.
The king said he was stepping down due to his fragile health.