A Change of Guard

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Friday, 4 January 2008

A Biography of Prince Sisowath Youtevong, A Father of Cambodian Democracy

Prince Sisowath Youtevong, 1913-1947.

A Biography of Prince Sisowath Youtevong, A Father of Cambodian Democracy

1. Family Lineage
Prince Sisowath Youtevong (alternative spellings: Yutevong or Youthevong) was born in the old royal Cambodian captital city of Oudong in 1913 and died at Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh on 17th July 1947 and was cremated on the 18th. He was the son of Preah Ang Mechas (Prince) Chamraengvongs (1870-1916) and Neak Ang Mechas (Princess) Sisowath Yubhiphan (1877-1st January 1967). He was the grandson of Prince Bhumarin (1842-1909), the great grandson of Prince Ang Bhim (1824-1855), the great-great grandson of Prince Ang Em (1794-1844) who was the elder brother of King Ang Duong (1796-19th October 1860). Prince Ang Em and King Ang Duong were the younger brothers of King Ang Chan II (1792-1834) and they were the sons of King Ang Eng (1772-1796).
Prince Youtevong was the youngest child in a family of five siblings. His other siblings are: 1. Neak Ang Mechas (Princess) Bophasy Teul (1902-1957), 2. Neak Ang Mechas (Prince) Sisowath Indravong (1904-1977), 3. Neak Ang Mechas (Princess) Sisowath Ang Non (1906-1975), 4. Neak Ang Mechas (Princess) Sisowath Chakaravudh (1906-1933) and then Prince Youtevong (1).
Prince Youtevong was married to a French woman named Dominique Laverne (1924-) and had two daughters namely 1. Neak Ang Rajavong Sisowath Kantara (1945-) and 2. Neak Ang Rajavong Sisowath Lenanda (1946-), who now lived in France.
Prince Youtevong was the product of an incestuous grandparent (2). His grandfather, Prince Bhumarin, married his own sister, Princess Thnamvong, and produced the only child, Prince Chamraenvongs, who was the father of Prince Youtevong. Traditionally speaking, Prince Youtevong should not be a Sisowath. It is not clear how Prince Youtevong obtained Sisowath as his last name. It had been speculated that his parents wanted to take advantage of the linear linkage with King Sisowath who ascended the throne in 1904. Prince Youtevong who was born in 1913, was the son of Prince Chamraenvongs, a great-great grandson of Prince Ang Em who was the younger brother of King Ang Duong and King Ang Chan II (a different branch of the royal family from King Ang Duong), and of Princess Sisowath Yubhiphan, the daughter of Sisowath Essaravong, with this latter being the oldest son of King Sisowath. Because Sisowath became king of Cambodia in 1904, Prince Youtevong's parents may have decided that their children should use their mother's last name, Sisowath, as their family last name. That kind of action was unprecedented in the history of Khmer royalty. Based on the above speculation, the direction of Prince Youtevong to be the leader of the Democratic Party was not by chance but by design. His opposition to King Norodom Sihanouk was a voluntary choice tacitly supported by the Sisowaths. The Sisowaths felt cheated by the French for putting a Norodom on the throne. They felt that Prince Sisowath Monireth should have been the heir to the throne, following King Monivong's death. Since that time, the Sisowaths and the Norodoms have constantly been in tension with each other.

Political Life
Prince Youtevong was a pioneer of Cambodian political activism. Dr. Lao Mong Hay, in an essay “ Development of Cambodian Democracy” credited Prince Youtevong with the introduction of democracy to Cambodia after World War II by forming the Democratic Party which won the first relatively free and fair election in 1946 (3). The Democratic Party convened a constituent assembly and was tasked with the drafting of the first Cambodian constitution modelled on the constitution of the French Fourth Republic.
Other writers have credited Prince Youtevong with providing “political vision” to Cambodia. Professor Matt Matsuda of Rutgers University, in an essay “Affinities and Empires: ¾ Tales From The Pacific”, in describing the French colonialism as “an empire of love”, referred to Prince Youtevong’s pioneering political activism in the following powerful tribute:“In the mid-twentieth century the Cambodian Prince Sisowath Youtevong had provided an ideal expression of this politically amorous vision”.(4)
Peter Keo, in an essay titled “The Rise of Cambodia’s Illiberal Democracy” credited Prince Youtevong with the introduction of “liberal democracy” to Cambodia. In describing Cambodia’s turbulent path to democracy he wrote “Cambodia bore witness to the short but inspirational second wave of democratization [which began just after the Second World War] with the emergence of nationalism under the leadership of Prince Sisowath Youtevong and the introduction of liberal democracy from 1946 to 1955.”(5)
Prince Youtevong was considered as the Father of Cambodian Democracy and the Father of the Cambodian Constitution. But above all else, he was a true nationalist. He had fought hard against the French for Cambodian democracy and her independence.
Kenneth T. So and Monireak Keo, in an essay “The Road To Khmer Independence’ claimed that, due to pressure from the Khmer Issarak, the French agreed to let Khmers form political parties in 1946. Two major parties were formed and both were headed by Khmer princes. Prince Sisowath Youtevong, at the age of 33 headed the Democratic Party while his rival, Prince Norodom Norindeth at the age of 40 headed the Liberal Party. The two parties were politically and philosophically different in their approach to solving the Khmer problems.
The Democratic Party was a party that believed in civil liberties and parliamentary democracy modelled after the French Fourth Republic. The party advocated a constitutional monarchical system of government with a popularly elected assembly having legislative and deliberative powers. The party was strongly anti-French in sentiment. The Democratic Party platform was demanding the immediate independence from France and wanted a parliamentary form of government. Their members were composed of intellectuals with such luminary personalities like Prince Yutevong, Son Sann, Chhean Vam, Sim Var, Ieu Koeuss, Huy Kanthoul, just to name a few. Penn Nouth was the counselor to the Democratic Party.
In contrast, the Liberal Party that was founded by Prince Norindeth and Sonn Voeunsai did not attract the professional elite bodies like those of the Democratic Party. The party members were composed of landowners, businessmen, top ranking officials, and Buddhist monks. The party advocated respect for human rights, person and property, and better understanding between Khmers and French. The Liberal Party preferred to retain some form of partnership with France and favoured a gradual democratic reform instead of a sudden break-up espoused by the Democratic Party. The French actively supported the Liberal Party of Prince Nodindeth and very much opposed the Democratic Party of prince Youtevong.
The Democratic Party, led by Prince Sisowath Youtevong, espoused immediate independence, democratic reforms, and parliamentary government. Its supporters were teachers, civil servants, politically active members of the Buddhist priesthood, and others whose opinions had been greatly influenced by the nationalistic appeals of Nagaravatta before it was closed down by the French in 1942 (6). Many Democrats sympathized with the violent methods of the Khmer Issarak. The Liberal Party, led by Prince Norodom Norindeth, represented the interests of the old rural elites, including large landowners. They preferred continuing some form of the colonial relationship with France, and advocated gradual democratic reform. In the Consultative Assembly election held in September 1946, the Democrats won 50 of 67 seats.
With a solid majority in the assembly, the Democrats drafted a constitution modelled on that of the French Fourth Republic. Power was concentrated in the hands of a popularly elected National Assembly. The king reluctantly proclaimed the new constitution on May 6, 1947. While it recognized him as the "spiritual head of the state," it reduced him to the status of a constitutional monarch, and it left unclear the extent to which he could play an active role in the politics of the nation. Sihanouk would turn this ambiguity to his advantage in later years, however.
In the December 1947 elections for the National Assembly, the Democrats again won a large majority. Despite this, dissension within the party was rampant. Its founder, Sisowath Yuthevong, had died and no clear leader had emerged to succeed him. During the period 1948 to 1949, the Democrats appeared united only in their opposition to legislation sponsored by the king or his appointees. A major issue was the king's receptivity to independence within the French Union, proposed in a draft treaty offered by the French in late 1948. Following dissolution of the National Assembly in September 1949, agreement on the pact was reached through an exchange of letters between King Sihanouk and the French government. It went into effect two months later, though National Assembly ratification of the treaty was never secured.

Educational Background (7)
Prince Youtevong was an intellectual and well educated. He graduated from the Faculty of Sciences in Montpellier, France in 1941 with a doctorate degree in Physical Sciences with high honour (mention très honorable). Before returning to Cambodia after he finished his study, Prince Youtevong had represented the French Union as its Delegate at the Conference in Hot Springs, USA. He also worked for the French Ministry of Outre-Mer. Not only was the prince a French official, but he was also an active member of the French Socialist Party (SFIO[2]). Since Cambodia was still controlled by the French, it was believed the Democratic Party members felt it would be to their advantage to choose Prince Youtevong to head the party for the above reasons. As to the French, they probably felt and hoped that Prince Youtevong would still be friendly to France because he went to French school, worked for French government, and served as a Delegate for the French Union. In this fashion the French could still control both parties.
Prince Youtevong and the Democrats were fighting the French, considered at the time to be enemy of the Khmer people. But it was acceptable to the Democrats that their leader was married to a French woman (Dominique Lavergne 1924-). Why wasn't this a case of sleeping with the enemy?
The first election in 1946 provided the Democrats with a majority in the assembly. Prince Youtevong was the main architect who drafted the Khmer Constitution modelled after the French Fourth Republic. It was ironic that the Democrats wanted to divorce from France but at the same time they wanted to create a Khmer Constitution modelled after the French. Did the Democrats design it this way as not to antagonize the French? How can France object to this constitution since it was modelled after her country? After the Constitution had been completed, the power was now in the hand of the National Assembly. Prince Youtevong, who had been until now a minor prince, suddenly realized that he would become more powerful than the king. On 6 May 1947 the king proclaimed the birth of the new Khmer Constitution. The king realized that his role as a monarch was greatly reduced, stripped much of his power.
With the Democratic Party victory, Prince Youtevong became President of the Council of Ministers, meaning he was Prime Minister of Cambodia. In addition to his position as Prime Minister, he also kept the post of Minister of Interior to himself. Why would someone who espoused democracy want to retain the two most important positions for himself? Why didn't the prince appoint somebody else to the post of Minister of Interior? What was the reason behind Prince Youtevong’s thinking? Did he not trust some of the people who worked around him?
It seemed that with their success, the Democratic Party would be strong and happy. On the contrary, the success spoiled the Democrats and clashes within the party were occurring constantly. Were there jealousies among the Democrats fighting for important positions within the newly formed government? Prince Youtevong did not live long enough to enjoy the Democrats' victory because he died on 17 July 1947. Speculations on the death of the prince at such an early age and on the height of his success ran rampant. How did he die so young? Was there any sign of him being sick or contracting some kind of illness? Did the French poison him or did the Democrats themselves have anything to do with his death? Who would benefit the most about Prince Youtevong's death? The mystery surrounding his death had not been satisfactorily resolved.

Prince Youtevong’s Legacy (8)

After the death of Prince Youtevong, the Democratic Party elected the grandson of King Sisowath, Prince Sisowath Vachhayavong (alternatively spelled Watchayavong), to be Prime Minister from 25 July 1947 to 20 February 1948. Afterward, the party elected Chhean Vam to succeed Prince Sisowath Vachhayavong. However, due to some infightings, the Prime Minister found his power insufficient and could not get things done. He asked for more power but it was turned down. Immediately, Chhean Vam was overthrown on that issue in 14 August 1948. Penn Nouth was elected as the next Prime Minister. He did not remain long at the head of his cabinet because Yem Sambaur, a former member of the Democratic Party, accused Penn Nouth of corruption. Yem Sambaur had left the Democratic Party to form his own minority grouping. Inexplicably, Yem Sambaur was chosen as the next Prime Minister on 12 February 1949 to replace Penn Nouth. How could this happen since the Democratic Party had the majority of the vote? The only reason this curious event could be explained was that the members of the Democratic Party became jealous of each other and preferred to see somebody from the outside instead of one of their own becoming Prime Minister.
After Yem Sambaur became Prime Minister, the Democrats started to have second thought and they finally passed a motion of censure against the Prime Minister. The nature of the censure was not clear. Because of this action, on 18 September 1949 King Norodom Sihanouk dissolved the National Assembly and signed a treaty with France granting some independence for Cambodia.
The treaty granted Khmer people most of administrative functions within Cambodia. In addition, the provinces of Battambang and Siemreap that the French recovered from the Thai were given to the Cambodian government for self-governing rule with its own armed forces without any French interference. This was called the autonomous zone, similar to the autonomous zone of Pailin that Hun Sen granted to the remnants of Khmer Rouge. However, on matters of foreign policy, the Cambodian government had to coordinate its actions and decision making with the French Union. The French retained most of the judicial systems, finances, and customs. Outside Battambang and Siemreap, France retained military operations. The reason the French wanted to retain military operations on other parts of Cambodia was because they felt more of a threat coming from Vietnam than Thailand, a threat that could break the French Union.
According to the Constitution at the time, in the event of the dissolution of the National Assembly, the President of the Assembly would become the chief executive pending the holding of new elections. At the time, Ieu Koeuss was President of the Assembly. Unfortunately, he was assassinated in January 1950. Theories abounded on who assassinated Ieu Koeuss. Some claimed it was Yem Sambaur himself who had a hand behind the whole affair while some pointed the fingers at Prince Norindeth. However, this case had never been resolved and still remains a mystery to this day.
Because of the death of the President of the National Assembly, the king reappointed Yem Sambaur to succeed himself as Prime Minister. This action had made the Democrats very upset since the elections would now be postponed. Because of this turn of event that sent Cambodia into turmoil, the king began to consider the possibility of modifying the Constitution. He wanted the Assembly to be a consultative body and shifting the power of ratification to the king. According to the Constitution, any amendments would require a three-fourth vote of the Assembly. Since the body had been dissolved, on October 1951 the king appealed to the heads of political parties to amend the Constitution. Both Democrats and Liberals opposed any constitutional changes that would decrease the power of the Assembly.
What saved the Democratic Party was its unity opposing King Norodom Sihanouk's legislations as well as his appointments of new cabinet members. The Democrats continued to oppose all policies made by the king, making his life miserable. No matter what the king did, the Democrats would contest and oppose him. A new election was held in September 1951 and again, the Democrats won the majority with fifty-four out of seventy-eight seats. The Liberal Party obtained eighteen seats while the rest went to the remaining parties. On October 1951, Huy Kanthoul became Prime Minister, and immediately a serious deadlock developed in Khmer-French relations as the Democrats went into almost absolute opposition to the French authorities. Two more Prime Ministers succeeded Yem Sambaur prior to Huy Kanthoul becoming Prime Ministers. Prince Sisowath Monipong, the son of King Monivong, became Prime Minister from 1 June 1950 to 3 march 1951 and Oum Chheang Sun succeeded Prince Monipong until 12 October 1951.
To counter balance the popularity of the Democrats, the king asked the French to release Son Ngoc Thanh from his house arrest in France. Son Ngoc Thanh returned to Cambodia with great triumph on 29 October 1951. Huy Kanthoul, who was Prime Minister, offered Son Ngoc Thanh a position in his cabinet but this latter turned down the offer because he expected the position of Prime Minister to be handed to him. Son Ngoc Thanh founded a weekly newspaper called Khmer Krauk (Khmer Awake), incessantly attacking the French Union. Pending rumor of an imminent arrest, Son Ngoc Thanh fled Phnom Penh and joined the Khmer Issarak.
There were people who accused King Norodom Sihanouk of dictatorship or of being an unconstitutional monarch. The people who made those accusations did not study the facts properly. The king had properly exercised his power as the Constitution had demanded. The reason he wanted to change the Constitution may be in part for self-interest, but also to prevent the same type of chaotic situation that happened during this tumultuous time. He followed the Constitution by going through the motion of Assembly vote to make amendment to the Constitution. He was exercising his democratic right and obeying the Constitution. We must not be quick to judge the king's action without properly understanding the events in Khmer politics.
The government of Huy Kanthoul found itself confronting with the problem of arresting people involving in flyers' distribution. The Dap Chhuon's party of Eysan Mean Chey (Dap Chhuon remained in Siemreap) with Mao Chhoy representing the party in Phnom Penh started to distribute flyers and created a chaotic situation in Phnom Penh. Prime Minister Huy Kanthoul issued an arrest warrant for people like Lon Nol and Yem Sambaur. Sim Var was the Chief of police at the time. Lon Nol was later released but Yem Sambaur was put in a house arrest at Banteay Cheung Khmao located near the Cine Lux movie theater. The arrest of Lon Nol and the semi-incarceration of a former Prime Minister of Cambodia made the situation in Cambodia dangerously explosive. Sensing the situation in Cambodia getting out of control, the king dismissed the government of Huy Kanthoul and on 13 January 1953 he dissolved the National Assembly and declared martial law.
The king was very in tune to the wish of the Khmer population, which was to obtain full independence from France. To avoid the situation in Cambodia from deteriorating further, King Sihanouk decided in March 1953 to go to France and asked the French President to grant complete independence to Cambodia. The French government turned a deaf ear to King Sihanouk's demand and accused the king of being too alarmist. Additionally, the French were threatening to replace the king if he continued to be in an uncooperative mood.
Khmer Democrats and Khmer Issarak had made the Khmer independence a national issue, but King Sihanouk took it a step farther. After the French refusal to King Sihanouk's demand on Khmer independence, he decided to elevate the Khmer struggle against the French to the international level. King Sihanouk decided to risk his future as king of Cambodia by campaigning against the French. The meeting with the French government was a failure. Therefore, instead of going home directly from France, the king made a brilliant political decision by stopping in the United States, Canada, and Japan to publicize his "royal crusade for independence." It was a bold move by the king, because his action could trigger the French to replace him as king of Cambodia with another prince.
To put the French in a corner, in June 1953, the king declared that he would take a self-imposed exile in Thailand and would not return to Phnom Penh unless the French granted full independence to Cambodia. The Thai government did not cooperate with the king and did not welcome his stay in Bangkok. Why did the Thai government that supported the Khmer Issarak refused to also support King Norodom Sihanouk for the same cause, which was to restore Cambodia to full independence from the French? The Thai probably thought they had the Khmer Issaraks under their allegiance but could not extract the same thing from King Norodom Sihanouk. Since the king was not welcomed in Thailand, he decided to establish his headquarters in the autonomous zone in Siemreap. It was at this time that the bond between King Norodom Sihanouk and Lieutenant Colonel Lon Nol was formed. Lon Nol commanded the autonomous zone of Siemreap, established in 1949 by the French agreement.
The whole Indochina was in turmoil. From their base in Siemreap, King Sihanouk and Lon Nol resisted and fought the French. The Khmer Issaraks were also giving the French a lot of troubles. Finally on 3 July 1953, the French declared they were ready to discuss the full independence status of Cambodia. The king insisted on his own terms, demanding total control of Cambodia in four main areas: National Defense, Police, Judiciary, and Finance. The French agreed to the demands and King Sihanouk returned to Phnom Penh with great triumph. The Khmer Independence Day was proclaimed on November 9, 1953.
There is no denial that everybody played a part for Khmer independence, but King Norodom Sihanouk must be hailed as the main architect who obtained Khmer independence from France. The king was a brilliant and daring politician in his maneuvers with the French government. The king was undaunted in his pursuit of Khmer independence. The road to Khmer independence was a tumultuous one and it must not be forgotten. As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary of Independence, we must renew our faith to keep Cambodia independent and free from any foreign influence into our national affairs. The title proclaiming “Norodom Sihanouk as Father of Khmer Independence” is very appropriate and well deserving for our aging monarch. It is regrettable that Prince Youtevong did not live to see his pioneer political works blossomed, the sacrifices he had made only to be put back into the Dark Ages by the Khmer Rouge regime.//The End//
The above Prince Youtevong’s biography was largely adopted from Kenneth T. So’s and Monireak Keo’s “The Road To Khmer Independence” which was posted at http://www.caraweb.org/ . Most credits should go to these two individuals and caraweb.org.

Prince Sisowath Youtevong’s Family Tree (9)

BORN : 1772DIED : 1796
PARTNER : Untraced
HM King ANG CHAN II [1792 - 1834]
Preah Ang Mechas ANG BHIM [1793 - 1798]
Preah Ang Mechas ANG SNGUON [1794 - 1822]
Preah Ang Mechas Meatuccha
Preah Ang Mechas ANG EM [1794 - 1844]
HM King ANG DUONG [1796 - 19 OCT 1860]

Preah Ang Mechas ANG EM
BORN : 1794DIED : 1844, Chaudoc,South Vietnam
FATHER : HM King ANG ENG [1772 - 1796]
PARTNER : Preah Ang Mechas Ang Peou
Preah Ang Mechas ANG BHIM [1824 - 1855]
Preah Ang Mechas Kessarey [1827 - ]
Preah Ang Mechas Samor [1831 - 1914/1915]
Preah Ang Mechas Ang Ing [ca 1837 - ]

Preah Ang Mechas ANG BHIM
BORN : 1824DIED : 1855
FATHER : Preah Ang Mechas ANG EM [1794 - 1844] MOTHER : Preah Ang Mechas Ang Peou
PARTNER : Preah Ang Mechas Ang Snguon
Preah Ang Mechas BHUMARIN [1842 - 1909]
Preah Ang Mechas Thnamvong [1844 - 1943]

Preah Ang Mechas BHUMARIN
BORN : 1842DIED : 1909
FATHER : Preah Ang Mechas ANG BHIM [1824 - 1855] MOTHER : Preah Ang Mechas Ang Snguon
PARTNER : Preah Ang Mechas Thnamvong [1844 - 1943]
Preah Ang Mechas CHAMRAENVONGS [1870 - 1916]

BORN : 1870DIED : 1916
FATHER : Preah Ang Mechas BHUMARIN [1842 - 1909] MOTHER : Preah Ang Mechas Thnamvong [1844 - 1943]
PARTNER : Neak Ang Mechas Sisowath Yubhiphan [1877 - 1 JAN 1967]
Neak Ang Mechas Sisowath Bophasy Teul [1902 - 1957]
Neak Ang Mechas SISOWATH INDRAVONG [1904 - 1977]
Neak Ang Mechas Sisowath Ang Non [1906 - 1975]
Neak Ang Mechas SISOWATH CHAKARAVUDH [1906 - 1933]
Neak Ang Mechas SISOWATH YOUTEVONG [1913 - 17 JUL 1947]

BORN : 1913, Oudong,CambodiaDIED : 17 JUL 1947, Preah Keth Monlea Hospital,Phnom PenhCREMATED : 18 JUL 1947, Phnom Penh,Cambodia
FATHER : Preah Ang Mechas CHAMRAENVONGS [1870 - 1916] MOTHER : Neak Ang Mechas Sisowath Yubhiphan [1877 - 1 JAN 1967]
PARTNER : Dominique Lavergne [1924 - ]
Neak Ang Rajavong Sisowath Kantara [1945 - ]
Neak Ang Rajavong Sisowath Lenanda [1946 - ]


(1) Henry Sozsynski, The Genealogy of the Cambodian Royal Family.
(2) Kenneth T. So and Monireak Keo, The Road to Khmer Independence (http://www.caraweb.org/).
(3) Dr. Lao Mong Hay, Development of Cambodian Democracy.
(4) Wikipedia, Professor Matt Matsuda of Rutgers University, Affinities and Empires: ¾ Tales From The Pacific.
(5) Peter Keo, The Rise of Cambodia’s Illiberal Democracy, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/TXT/comments/rise.htm
(6) Wikipedia,
(7) Kenneth T. So and Monireak Keo, The Road to Khmer Independence (http://www.caraweb.org/).
(8) Kenneth T. So and Monireak Keo, The Road to Khmer Independence (http://www.caraweb.org/).
(9)(1) Henry Sozsynski, The Genealogy of the Cambodian Royal Family.

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