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Cambodia: King Sihamoni’s Tenth Anniversary as Monarch

Carlyle A. Thayer , C3S Paper No. 2074

We are preparing an overview report on the ten-year anniversary of King Norodom Sihamoni’s reign and request your assessment of the following:

Q1. How do you think the position of the monarchy in Cambodia’s political landscape has shifted since Sihamoni replaced Sihanouk?

ANSWER: The Cambodian monarchy was politically defanged with the adoption of the current Constitution in which the monarch reigns but does not rule. Sihanouk’s passage only accentuated this trend. Sihanouk could exert some political influence by withholding support and/or by absenting himself overseas. Sihamoni can keep the monarchy alive ony by symbolic participation at religious and other state ceremonies.

Q2. Sihamoni has been a far less active monarch than Sihanouk was. Do you think this has been a conscious decision on behalf of the King or simply a reaction to the political constraints he has faced?

ANSWER: . Sihamoni was not reared in court circles, he has little experience in politics and he spent considerable time away from Cambodia. He was chosen as a compromise candidate among his siblings because he was most likely to be compliant in the role of a powerless monarch. Sihamoni has been less active for both reasons: personally he has eschewed personal activism and he faced the considerable power of Hun Sen.

Q3. What impact do you think Sihamoni’s reign since 2004 will have on the future of  the monarchy and its position in the political order?

ANSWER: Sihamoni’ strictly symbolic role as monarch will keep the institution of monarchy alive when he is no longer on the throne. He has performed his ceremonial role well and this has served to promote Cambodian national unity. The monarchy is popular with rural folk and the urban poor. It also has religious sanction. 

(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra email:

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