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Should Royals Be Kept From Politics?

The appointment of princes and princesses to positions at the Royal Palace, effectively removing them from politics while preserving the royal image, has generally been welcomed, but views differ on whether a law should be put in place to officially keep them out.

In general, many royal family members have decided to leave positions in political parties, as advised by former king Norodom Sihanouk, said Prince Norodom Sirivuth, but they should still be allowed to express their ideas for the national interest.

"I myself am delighted and congratulate seeing the royal families help the king and the monarchy with some work that is non-political," he said. "I believe for sure that the government would support this move,because royal family members should have some role to serve the nation outside of politics."

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who had been the most politically influential royal outside his father, Norodom Sihanouk, recently recused himself from politics and was promoted by King Norodom Sihamoni to supreme adviser, with a rank equal to prime minister.

Aside from him and Norodom Sirivuth, 25 other princes and princesses have been appointed as royal advisers, said Prince Sisowath Thomico,himself an adviser to the king.

Nguon Nhil, first vice president of the National Assembly, hailed the appointments of royals away from politics as a good move, adding that the appointments were not initiated by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"Maybe His Majesty wishes for royal family members to stay in a cycle out of politics," he said. "If they stay in politics, inevitably there will be clashes that will have an impact on the image of the monarchy."

A law defining the work of royals and the expenses for their work was not unreasonable, he said, as the number of appointments was increasing.

Hun Sen has already said he would support a law to bar royals from politics, Nguon Nhil said.

"If there is no clearly defined law, they could become a group practicing politics from within the Royal Palace," he said. "There should be something to define them, with such a definition to prevent princes and princesses from politicking, which could damage the images of the Sisowath and Norodom bloodlines."

Sisowath Thomico said the appointments did not mean that royals would stop serving the nation through other initiatives that were not directly competitive with politics. This natural turning point was better than creating a prohibition, which would run counter to a constitution that guarantees each citizen the right to political involvement, he said. Such a law would also be a waste of human resources, he added, as many royals have high levels of education.

"The present leaders of the nation should give a clear definition of what politics are," he said. "If royal family members take leadership roles in activities in culture, health, education and humanitarianism,are they practicing politics? If the government doesn't want us to do anything, they can just open a museum and put all the royal family members into it and just sell tickets."

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director for Cambodian Defenders Project, said creating a law to ban any group of people from politics would be unconstitutional. "It would be better to find a solution other than creating such a law," he said. "Another solution would demonstrate that our country is continuing on the path of liberal democracy."

Sisowath Thomico, meanwhile, said history showed that when Cambodiawas invaded by foreign countries, or underwent some kind of chaos, itwas the royal family, representing national unity and hope, that wasmost popular. That was not the case, he said, in a time ofindependence and peace.