PHNOM PENH AND WASHINGTON DC —
Around 1,000 people, including government officials, students and civil servants gathered in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the coronation of King Norodom Sihamoni.
The current king took the throne after his father, Norodom Sihanouk, abdicated in 2004. Members of the crowd held balloons, Cambodian flags or bouquets of flowers, as Sihamoni gave a speech that appealed for unity, peace and political stability.
In marking the day, some analysts say the king has made some important decisions since his crowning, though he has fallen short of the historical fame, or infamy, of his father.
“The king stays far away from politics, in accordance with the constitution,” said Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University. “But the king plays a role for compromise in politics. The king is a shadow of the politicians, and he stays neutral.”
The Cambodian constitution states that the king will be “a symbol of unity and eternity of the nation,” who will also be “guarantor of national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” It also mandates him as “the protector of rights and freedom for all citizens and the guarantor of international treaties.”
Many say he has followed this mandate.
Using an expression common to many Cambodians, Kem Sokha, vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, said the king continues to provide protection to his people, like “cool shade.”
King Sihamoni differs from the king of Thailand, however, in that he does not have business enterprises and exerts less power in politics, Sok Touch said.
Still, his supporters say he has been an important part of Cambodia’s national reconciliation.
Nhiek Bun Chhay, secretary general of the royalist Funcipec, said the king has maintained relations with world leaders and continues to care for the poor. “And another important thing is to have maintained the existing peace and stability and other things over the past 10 years.”