99) King Norodom Sihanouk
(2nd reign 1993--2004, Capital: Phnom Penh)
After the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) helped establish a democratically elected government in Cambodia in 1993, the legislative body of the new government drafted a new constitution and, in it, declared that the removal of Prince Sihanouk and the abolition of the kingdom of Cambodia in 1970 were illegal. Thus, Cambodia, once again, became a kingdom in 1993. In that same year, Prince Sihanouk was re-crowned king, 38 years after his abdication in 1955.
Aged and in poor health, King Sihanouk played little role in politics. Since the new constitution was stipulated, the king held no governmental power except for signing decrees approving the formation of a new government or the appointment of government ministers. In a sense, the king was basically a rubber stamp. He could only reign but not rule.
Since the election and restoration of the monarchy in 1993, Cambodia remained a divided country. On one hand, the Khmer Rouge, who refused to participate in the election and eventually was outlawed by the new government, was still a serious threat to the much-needed security and stability in Cambodia. On the other hand, the new democratic government, which UNTAC created, was full of factional fighting. As soon as UNTAC turned over the power to the new government, the two ruling parties led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, King Sihanouk’s son, and Hun Sen, former premier of the previous PRK’s regime, began to jockey for dominance. Taking advantage of the fracturing situation, the Khmer Rouge began to play a wild card political game by making itself available to form alliance with either one of the ruling parties. Soon, tension within the government began to mount as both sides of the ruling parties started accusing each other of courting or planning to form alliance with the outlawed Khmer Rouge.
The conflict over the Khmer Rouge issue eventually got out of hand in July 5, 1997 when co-prime minister, Hun Sen, staged a coup d’etat to seize power. Fighting broke out on the outskirt of Phnom Penh between troops loyal to Hun Sen and those loyal to Prince Ranariddh who had just been deposed by his partner. Many people, including civilians, were killed in the violence. Prince Ranariddh and a number of his associates were able to go into exile abroad and, immediately, went on a campaign asking the international community to put pressure on Hun Sen for illegally using violent forces to take control over a democratically elected government. In response, the international community cut off or reduced economic aids to Cambodia and suspended its membership in the UN’s General Assembly.
In the aftermath of the coup, a band of soldiers led by a general named Nhek Bun Chhay began to organize a resistant movement against Hun Sen. Though small and militarily insignificant, the movement gained popularity and caught the attention of the international community, after successfully withstanding the attack from the well-armed Hun Sen’s forces. This movement eventually became a democratic thorn in the new Hun Sen’s government’s side. With the help of the international community, especially Japan and Australia, and the unpopularity of Hun Sen’s undemocratic seizure of power, a peace settlement was reached in 1998 as Cambodia prepared for a national election for a new government. Under the terms of the settlement, Hun Sen was to give pardons to all the politicians, including Prince Ranariddh, whom he accused of “breaking the laws” and allow all of them to freely participate in the national election.
Once again, the 1998’s election ushered in yet another conflict in the Cambodian struggle to adopt democracy. After the ballots were counted, Hun Sen and his party emerged as a winner but short of a two-third majority to be able to form a government as stipulated by the constitution. Thus, Hun Sen must seek to form coalition with other parties to gain the necessary votes in order to establish a new government. However, the other parties, especially the second place winner led by Prince Ranariddh, refused to join him. They instead accused Hun Sen of using unfair tactics in the election and demanded for ballots recounting. In a series of accusation, riot between supporters of Hun Sen and his opposition parties broke out in Phnom Penh. The chaos lingered for several days before polices, under order from Hun Sen, put an end to it.
To break the impasses, reconcile, and restore order to the kingdom, the quarreling parties agreed to have King Sihanouk mediated their differences. After a series of meetings and compromises, a new coalition government between the election’s first and second place winners with Hun Sen as prime minister, was formed. Thus, King Sihanouk had saved the day while the saga of the Cambodian royal chronicle was continuing to unfold.
It is worth noticing that since the election of 1998, Cambodia has been slowly but progressively moving forward. The Khmer Rouge, who was a menace to Cambodian society, started to disintegrate and, finally, ceased to exist in early 1999. For the first time after 3 decades of warfare, Cambodia begins to experience peace and tranquility. At this point, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has admitted Cambodia to become its member and, hence, opened the door for Cambodian greater economic development opportunities. As for the monarchy as an institution, there seems to be little sign of diminishing. Most Cambodians remain loyal to their king, and it appears that this 2000-year-old little kingdom will continue to exist into the next millennia.
100) King Norodom Sihamoni
(2004--…… Capital: Phnom Penh)
King Norodom Sihamoni ascended the throne on October 29, 2004, after his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, citing poor health, abdicated on October 7, 2004. The announcement of King Sihanouk’s abdication took the nation by surprise, for the Cambodian constitution, stipulated after the election of 1993, did not have provision for crowning new king before the decease of the preceding king. Thus, an amendment was rushed through the National Assembly and the Senate in order to make it legitimate for the new king to ascend the throne.
After having all the necessary legal provisions in place for the new king to ascend the throne, the nine-member Crown Council unanimously selected Prince Sihamoni to replace his father as king. Thus, the ascendancy of King Norodom Sihamoni to the Cambodian throne was one of the most peaceful and smoothest coronations in Cambodian history.
It is perhaps worth pointing out that King Norodom Sihamoni was a descendant of both Cambodian and European ancestors. His maternal grandfather was French of Italian origin. Prior to his ascendancy to the throne, King Sihamoni spent most of his life living abroad. He went to study in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and North Korea to pursue a career in ballet dancing. Later on during the 1990’s, he was appointed Cambodian ambassador to UNESCO, a position in which he held until the time he was selected to become king of Cambodia. Hence, many Cambodians, especially, those who live in the countryside know little of him. His sudden appearance on the throne was, to put it mildly, a surprise to many of them.