Sunday,2007-2-11: Authority and Privileges
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 494
During the last week, there was a wide exchange of opinions about the role of members of the royal family – the Norodom and Sisowath families – in politics. There was advice from former King Norodom Sihanouk that the members of the royal family should better stay out of politics, but not all its members, nor all public voices, agreed. The different positions have not been systematically compared and weighed in the press.
Most of them consider practical implications. If the members of the royal family stay in politics,
they might get involved in political conflicts, detrimental to the high respect due to the royal family; it would not be appropriate if they are identified as a major camp in the opposition, because this might undermine an important power which supported the monarchy; if they stay out of politics, they might receive, in exchange, regular financial support from the state – which would be another form of privilege; Prince Ranariddh declared that if a change of constitution would exclude him from politics, he would renounce royal privileges in order to continue his political career as an ordinary person to solve the problems of the nation and of the poor. And finally, members of the royal family have, after all, the same rights as all other Cambodian citizens, guaranteed by the constitution. The role of the monarchy as such has not been questioned in this context, it was rather affirmed by the Prime Minister.
In a much more fundamental way, the nature of the imperial authority in Japan, the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world, was challenged after the end of the Second World War. Officially, more than 100 legitimate monarchs are listed, beginning with the Emperor Jimmu, dated to the year 660 before the beginning of the present international counting of years, by tradition a descendant of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu.
The Japanese Emperor Hirohito declared publicly on 1 January 1946:
“The ties between Us and Our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection and do not depend upon mere legends and myths.”
That legends and myths continue to play a role became obvious, when Prince Mikasa, a scholar of history and a brother of Emperor Hirohito (1926 – 1989, the 124th in the traditionally upheld line of emperors), publicly agreed with the opinion of other scholars of history, that for the first 14 names in this list of emperors and their illustrious histories, there is no historical proof. As a consequence, Prince Mikasa was challenged to give up his status as a member of the imperial family.
The outrage about the Cambodian historian Keng Vansak’s statements about King Jayavarman VII can be a distant reminder of this controversy, where traditional historiography is not followed by a scholar of history. Not authority, but rational argument will provide answers – or leave some questions open.
The question what provides the basis of authority is also behind a series of reports about land ownership conflicts. We reported a long and confusing story this Saturday showing that this is not an easy field. There is a whole series of reports of farmers or people in unregulated urban settlements, or of ethnic minority people, who struggle against those in power – those who have or claim authority. It may be called for to remember the warning of the Prime Minister who said in 1999: “Should we not manage the land issue in a good manner, we might have to face a farmers’ revolution.” He mentioned this again in 2004, addressing the National Forum on Land Management in the presence of national and international representatives. Some of his words need to be called back to memory:
“In implementing the new land law and the primary strategic framework document on the Royal Government of Cambodia’s land policy, we have specifically focused on strengthening the safety of land ownership through active land registration.
Our use of the resources is not yet effective and not productive for economic growth and poverty reduction, as lands are not in the hands of real producers.
Cambodia’s economic growth mostly depends on our ability to have lands in the possession of our population who are the real producers.
Young people entering the labor force each year account for 200,000, while the absorbing capacity of other sectors except agriculture is still limited. Thus, improving access to agricultural lands for landless people and those in scarcity of lands is very critical at this stage.
I would like to declare a campaign against illegal large-scale land ownership by leaving those lands unproductive by influential and rich people which significantly impact social stability and economic development. On behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia, I would like to declare an order to all ministries and relevance institutions, all level of armies and local authorities, which must cooperate and participate to timely crack down and eliminate those illegal land ownership. I would like to publicly warn involved Excellencies, Okhnas, ladies and gentlemen, to withdraw ownership and hand over those lands back to the government to distribute to the poor who need those lands for their subsistence livelihood.
If you know of a senior government official who illegally possesses an area of land, 1000 hectares for example, I would rebuke them by stripping them off their positions. If I were not to do so I would step down. But so far I have not received any reports on the situation on paper. I also have a sense that some incidents happened, remarking that it is difficult to implement the law ‘as we have here mostly our men.’ I would warn you of thinking so; there would be no ‘our’ or ‘their’ men before the rule of law. On the contrary, if it is our men we must punish them hard, as doing so would give an example to a thousand others.”
The Japanese imperial family continued in its function as it “stood upon mutual trust and affection and does not depend upon mere legends and myths.” Not only royals, also parties and governments which have to present themselves regularly to the people in national elections, depend on trust by the people. No legends and myths – neither from old history, nor about present achievements – can serve instead as the basis of their authority.