PHNOM PENH — ; Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk has announced his abdication by letter, saying his health is getting worse, and calling on the country's leaders to select a new monarch from his family.
According to the head of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, the 81 year-old king announced his retirement in a letter sent from Beijing and read to the assembled legislators by his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
"My retirement is not a new thing," the king's letter said, calling on Cambodia's leaders to "allow the throne council to meet in order to select a new king from my family, who is suitable and satisfies the nation and the Cambodian people."
"My retirement is not a new thing."
"I will certainly return to live in Siem Reap with the monks and the Cambodian people," said Sihanouk, who has spent longer and longer periods of time overseas in recent years, as a guest of the Chinese and North Korean regimes.
"I would like to thank Samdech Chea Sim, the acting head of state, who is a great patriot with good judgment," the letter said. "Therefore, the Samdech doesn't need to ask for permission from me to sign any royal decrees, because Norodom Sihanouk has already retired and so cannot respond to give permission or not. "
Sihanouk has repeatedly threatened to step down following inconclusive elections in July last year, expressing frustration at several months of in-fighting between Cambodia's main political parties. He had already referred to his retirement plans in a statement posted on his Web site on Oct. 6, and to a new and serious health condition in his stomach.
Ranariddh said leaders of the ruling coalition planned "to beg" the king to stay on as monarch. He said he had been granted permission to visit his father and would leave for Beijing on Friday to hear "the reason behind His Majesty's decision."
"We still hope that the king tomorrow or the day after tomorrow will agree to be the king again."
"We still hope that the king tomorrow or the day after tomorrow will agree to be the king again," Ranariddh, also national assembly president, told reporters. "According to a royal message that we have received and read to the National Assembly, the king has abdicated."
The king in Cambodia is not a hereditary title, but all candidates must have a royal bloodline. Ranariddh could be a candidate, but has already said he is not interested. The king has no official say in the decision but is known to favour Prince Sihamoni, 51, a former dancer and Ranariddh's half-brother.
Sihanouk has been an influential figure in Cambodian politics for more than half a century, leading the country to independence from French colonialism in the 1950s. He left Cambodia in January after trying and failing to end the months of political feuding.
During a career that spanned five decades, he became one of the most prominent and colorful figures in Southeast Asia and was credited with almost single-handedly holding his country together during the troubled years.
A theatrical and likeable figure, his shrewdness won him widespread respect but he was also prone to unpredictable behavior, changing alliances, and frequent outbursts.