10/08/2004, 00.00
CAMBODIA
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King Sihanouk abdicates, politicians quarrel and people are largely indifferent

According to a missioner the king lost his people's affection long time ago.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – "We are confident that in two days the King will reconsider and remain on the throne," Prince Norodom Ranariddh said. The Prince, who is the president of Cambodia's National Assembly, will fly to Beijing tomorrow to try and convince his father not to give up his kingdom.

King Sihanouk announced on Wednesay October 6 that he was going to abdicate for "health reasons" but Prince Ranariddh accused opposition leader Sam Rainsy of setting off the crisis by warning the King of possible protests on his return. Mr Rainsy rejected the accusation claiming that his intervention "pre-empted a potential social conflict" stressing instead that the absence of Prime Minister Hun Sen who is at present in Vietnam. Mr Rainsy accused the Prime Minister of "scheduling his trip to Hanoi so as not to be involved in the quarrel".

Sihanouk's abdication has shaken Cambodia's political class but does not seem to interest the general public that much. "It's better without the King," said 55-year-old Oeung Lam, a teacher in Siem Reap province. "He has done nothing for the people. Most people live in extreme poverty."

Currently, Cambodia is going through a major political and social crisis rooted in poverty, secularisation, and loss of moral values, especially among the young.

According to Fr Mario Ghezzi, a PIME missioner in Cambodia for the past four years, "people have more important and pressing problems to deal with than the King's abdication. Most people are not particularly interested in or attached to the monarchy." Father Ghezzi, who is a parish priest in Beng Tom Pun (just outside of Phnom Penh), told AsiaNews that the "lack of interest for the King is almost universal. Whether he leaves or stays won't change much in people's lives. Yesterday, at the end of the school day, the kids did not know anything about it because no one talked about it. This is further proof of the gap between the King and his people.

And yet in the past the King had great prestige that went beyond political power. He was like a spiritual guide of the nation.

Despite its profoundly Buddhist character Cambodian society is clearly undergoing a process of secularisation. A clear break is taking place with the traditions, values and rites that once were the foundations of Cambodian culture. This is especially true for young people living in the cities. Leading spiritual figures or inspiring Buddhist monks have been missing and this has widened the gap between the young and religion.

How is country's journey towards democracy?

Cambodia has not yet started the journey towards democracy. If truth be told, most people have not fully assimilated the meaning of democracy. Despite appearances, Prime Minister Hun Sen exercises almost dictatorial powers. Laws go unenforced and corruption is widespread at every level.

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. Who really runs the country?

Prime Minister Hun Sen is the country's strongman. He uses force and violence to keep control. The King has complained several times of the country's situation indirectly attacking the Prime Minister . . . But so far his complaints have not brought about any change. (DS)

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