I drove on along the quay slowly and happened to see the name "DIETHELM" on an office building in a side street. Since I knew some of the Diethelm staff in Bangkok, I dropped by, and - as I half suspected - there was another Dutchman in the shipping department! He told me that business kept on deteriorating, at least for the foreign companies*. Corruption and waste of funds from such American aid as ICA hampered the development of the new state. It was said that the Premier was the only person in the Government who was not corrupt.
Cambodja has been in the world news repeatedly during the last few years, and the central figure always was Norodom Sihanouk Varman. One of the most remarkable facts and unique in history is his abdication as King in 1955, which became not only the end of a famous monarchy but also the beginning of a successful premiership.
A short sketch of his life's history to-date (1956): HRH Norodom Sihanouk was born in Phnom Penh on October 31, 1922 as the son of Prince Norodom Suramarit and Princess Kossamak Nearirek, both descendents of the Khmer dynasty which established Angkor. He studied literature in Saigon and was a cadet in the French cavalry school at Saumur. In 1941 he succeeded his grandfather, King Sisowath Monivong. In 1946, he arranged for the end of the French protectorate over Cambodja. In 1947 he relinquished the King's privilege of absolute monarchy and gave the country one of the most liberal parlementary constitutions in the world. His personal efforts led in 1950 to the declaration of independence of Cambodja. The political situation proved unsatisfactory and French influence remained powerful until the King took the reins in his own hands in June, 1952 and announced a three year plan directed to obtain absolute independence and restoration of peace and safety. At the end of 1953, after extended negotiations, he French Government ceded all power to Cambodja, The King's popularity was clear from the 99.8% approval of the votes in the February 1955 referendum, in which 1/5 of the population participated. Next, the King announced nation wide elections for a new parliament, which caused large demonstrations requesting the King to maintain direct government. He refused this, however, and abdicated in favor of his father, giving as reason that his new task as leader of a true democracy were inreconcilable with the etiquette of Khmer Royalty.
In the elections, his newly established socialist party won the absolute majority, so Prince Norodom could use his position as Premier to dedicate himself completely to solving social problems, fight exploitation and corruption and promote the country's welfare. His popularity is overwhelming and he cunningly uses it with threats to resign if his policies are not approved in a way remindful of Gandhi's ways of bolstering his arguments. On several occasions, he actually withdrew, which was always followed by a glorious return to power. The foreign policy of Cambodja is strictly neutral. Foreign aid is accepted gratefully from whoever offers it, of which I will give some examples later.
NOTE on March 3, 2003: Remember that the above paragraphs were written in 1956, well before the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge, and the Killing Fields. Norodom has continued in politics and here is a partial update of his biography and the recent history of Cambodia;
*Diethelm seems to have been faring well, judging from their new website, first having merged with Keller (each of them started in 1887) to form DKSA with some 12,000 employees, and as of Jan.2002 about to merge with SiberHegner Holding Ltd, a third Swiss firm active in S.E. Asia...