EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World/National News

February 3, 2013

Sihanouk: Cambodia's last true king

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — When the flames at the cremation ground are quenched and Cambodia’s former monarch Norodom Sihanouk’s ashes scattered on Phnom Penh’s riverfront, the mighty Mekong River may well carry away the country’s last true king, a towering figure in a procession of more than 100 monarchs stretching back 2,000 years.

Today, Cambodia has a new king, but he holds little of the power that Sihanouk once wielded. Instead, a poor farmer’s son and onetime communist commander, strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen, now occupies the dominant position that Sihanouk represented for years.

For over half a century Sihanouk bestrode this Southeast Asian country like a colossus, wresting independence from France, keeping the opposing Cold War powers at bay while maneuvering adroitly — at times brutally — through domestic minefields.

A larger-than-life character, Sihanouk survived wars and the Khmer Rouge reign of terror before succumbing to a heart attack last October at the age of 89. The King-Father, as he is called, will be cremated Monday.

His son, current King Norodom Sihamoni, a gentle man and former ballet dancer, by most accounts ascended the throne reluctantly and does not appear to have inherited any of the father’s political skills needed in Cambodia’s winner-take-all arena.

Bent on monopolizing power, Hun Sen’s regime has not afforded Sihamoni powers guaranteed to the monarchy by the constitution and even restricts the king’s movements outside palace walls, according to royalists and political opponents.

Sihamoni’s shrinking role and personality, together with the erosion of traditional society, does not bode well for monarchy’s long-term future.

“I think the survival of the monarchy after Sihamoni drops off the mortal coil is, at best, a 50-50 bet,” says Milton Osborne, an Australian historian and author of a Sihanouk biography.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News
World/National News

Latest U.S. News
Raw: House OKs Bill for Border Crisis Funds Rare Whale Fossil Pulled From Calif. Backyard Denver Celebrates Pot at the County Fair Escaping Email: Inspired Vision or Pipe Dream? Obama Calls on Hamas to Release Israeli Soldier Hispanic Caucus Slams GOP for Border Bill Shifts Obama: GOP Not Even Trying to Solve Immigration Emory Prepares to Treat American Ebola Cases US Employers Add 209K Jobs, Rate 6.2 Pct House GOP Optimistic About New Border Bill Four Rescued From Crashed Plane Clinton Before 9-11: Could Have Killed Bin Laden Couple Channel Grief Into Soldiers' Retreat WWI Aviation Still Alive at Aerodrome in NY Raw: Woman Who Faced Death Over Faith in N.H. Russell Simmons, LL Cool J Visit Youth at Jail Raw: Obama Gets Hug From Special Olympian US, UN Announce Deal on Gaza Cease-Fire Despite Moratorium, Detroit Water Worries Remain Faith Leaders Arrested at DC Deportation Protest
Latest World News
Hispanic Caucus Slams GOP for Border Bill Shifts Renewed Violence Taking Toll on Gaza Residents 2 Americans Detained in North Korea Seek Help Raw: Tunisia Closes Borders With Libya Gaza Truce Unravels; Israel, Hamas Trade Blame Clinton Before 9-11: Could Have Killed Bin Laden Today in History for August 1st Raw: Rescuers at Taiwan Explosion Scene US, UN Announce Deal on Gaza Cease-Fire US Warns Against Traveling to Ebola-hit Areas Raw: Deadly Taiwan Gas Leak Explosion Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Malaysian PM: Stop Fighting in Ukraine Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Raw: Smoke, Explosions Fill Gaza Skyline Today in History for July 31st Raw: 16 Killed in Gaza Market Strike Raw: Guinea Rap Concert Stampede Kills 33+ Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village
Photos of the Week