Lifestyle & Belief

Cambodia's reluctant king


Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni in Prague on March 19, 2010.


Michal Cizek

Poor King Norodom Sihamoni.

It doesn't sound like he wants to be king.

It's true the monarchy is more of a figurehead these days, with the true power lying in the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

But the bidding of Hun Sen, who helped turn Cambodia into a forced labor camp with the Khmer Rouge in the late 70s, can't be pleasant work.

Sihamoni spends his days pushing papers and receiving guests — despite his lack of interest in political affairs — and then he retires to dine alone and read, says one royal adviser.

He is a symbol of national unity, no doubt. Everywhere he goes, people bow at his feet.

But even so, he feels "sad, lonely and abandoned," according to a new AP article.

Many think of him as a prisoner in his own palace.

The 58-year-old bachelor clearly longs for the years he spent in Europe -- France and what used to be the Czechoslovakia -- as a ballet dancer and cultural ambassador. It isn't hard to imagine him dreaming of those far-off places from the confines of his castle.

"I think we can use the words 'puppet king.' His power has been reduced to nothing," says Son Chhay, an opposition leader. "The king must please the prime minister as much as possible in order to survive. It is sad to see."

But this isn't news to me. I knew something was up when he refused to go to Will and Kate's wedding.

He said he had "something important to do."

A cry for help if ever I heard one.