By Baron Henri Estramant.
Cambodia is on a festive mood, on 29 October 2014, the Khmer people celebrated ten years of reign of the popular but shy and low-profile King Norodom Sihamoni.
His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni is a bachelor who became the country’s monarch (or co-monarch rather while his father was still alive) after the formal abdication of his late father Great King Norodom Sihanouk. Up to his father’s death on 15 October 2012, Sihamoni was a sort of “junior King” whereas his father was formally titled “Great King”. Whilst two joint monarchs are not strange to Cambodian royal traditions, it was a constitutional conundrum as such arrangements are not foreseen in the kingdom’s constitution.
In 1993, after the country re-established its monarchical system, Sihamoni served as Cambodia’s envoy to UNESCO and the cultural institutions based in Paris with the rank of ambassador albeit he declined to be accredited to France where he had been based for about twenty years of exile. King Sihamoni serves as a unifying symbol for Cambodians, and plays a mostly ceremonial roles whilst the country is in fact run by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. He is fluent in English, French, Czech and his native Khmer. He is noted for being the world’s only monarch to speak fluent Czech which he learnt whilst studying in Prague between 1962 and 1975.
Albeit the King is childless, there is no problem in the royal succession as the throne does not automatically go to one of the King’s sons but to a chosen prince who professes Theravada Buddhism, and is over thirty years old. The decision process is handled by the “Royal Council of the Throne”. The reigning dynasty is called Varman which has two houses, one named Norodom and one Sisowath. All princes and princesses belong to one of these two houses.
The present King holds a court of 26 royal advisers, all members of the extended Royal Family. The celebrations of His Majesty’s jubilee included monks chanting and praying for the King’s well-being before a giant portrait of the former. Thousands took to the streets of Phnom Penh to catch a glimpse of the King greeting the crowds from the Royal Palace.
Since 2009 Cambodia is represented to the Benelux countries, the EU and Austria by HE Ambassador Saem Hem. He is based in Brussels.