18 March 2013

Cambodia: This Day in History

March 18th, 1970

Prime Minister Lon Nol and his deputy, Sisowath Sirik Matak carried out a coup against head of state Prince Sihanouk.

Movies and music interested Sihanouk
more than matters of the state in the late 1960s
In the late 1960s, Sihanouk was beginning to lose control of his country. His cousin, and deputy Prime Minister, Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak was especially disgusted by what he saw as the gross incompetence and laziness of Sihanouk.

That Sihanouk no longer cared about running the country and would rather make movies and run after woman, was exemplified by an incident where he had some of the country's gold stock made into a statuette. The statuette was given to him as first prize for a film he presented at a Cambodia festival where only he was ever going to be the winner.

And Sihanouk was certainly not helped his wife, Monique Izzi who was most unpopular and seen as grasping and corrupt.

Finally aware that his power was beginning to wane Sihanouk sloped of to the French Riviera in January 1970, for rest and political plotting.

With the Prince out of the way, yet threatening to return and take action against both the deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister, Lon Nol, for their culpability of the anti-Vietnamese riots on March 11th  the two government leaders carried out their coup.

Prime Minister Lon Nol was a very reluctant player in the drama:

'During the night of 17 March, Sirik Matak and several supporters burst into Lon Nol's house, pulled him from bed and demanded his support for a parliamentary coup against Sihanouk- at gunpoint according to some reports. Reluctantly, Lon Nol agreed, signing a paper that called upon the National Assembly to depose of Sihanouk as head of state. He is said to have wept when he signed the document, and later, when the country descended into chaos, to have expressed remorse at turning against his master.'

~A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival. John Tully

With the writing on the wall, National Assembly representatives did what politicians always do- back the winner- and they set about vilifying the once all-powerful, Sihanouk.

They would have served their country better had they thought about what the coup really meant for their country- for Cambodia was heading for disaster.

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