September 24th – Constitution Day

Today marks the 287th anniversary of the signing of the modern Cambodian Constitution, and is an official public holiday.

(Photo: The late Prince, later King Sihanouk holds a copy of the constitution)

Cambodia, like many of its neighbours, had no pre-colonial history or conception of constitution and rule of law. The balance of power between rulers and their subjects was such that a king and his central state in Cambodia ruled largely through influence and unofficial channels.

The notion of regimented legal and judicial systems was only really introduced to Cambodia with the advent of French colonialism in the 19th century. With such concepts came the notion of defining and restricting state power in formal law. The process was cemented with the withdrawal in 1953 of the French from Cambodia and the 1947 constitution they left behind.

Drafting of the 1993 constitution would draw heavily on both the 1947 constitution and the 1989 constitution that had been drafted by the Vietnamese-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), the former favoured by the FUNCINPEC party and the latter by incumbents now running under the new name of the CPP.

The writing of the constitution and the transition to democracy were but a part of the larger process outlined at the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1991. 

Despite months of political wrangling between the factions and with the United Nations, a final draft of the constitution for a constitutional monarchy in Cambodia was ratified by the Constituent Assembly on September 21.

Prince Sihanouk signed the constitution into law on September 24, 1993, formally establishing the Kingdom of Cambodia. Prince Sihanouk was then formally elected King of Cambodia and was sworn in on the same day in an austere ceremony of his own request. The oath was taken in the throne room, and Queen Monique was also sworn in as his consort. King Norodom Sihanouk bowed and smiled to the audience, dabbing lustral water behind his own ears, which paralleled the bathing rite in a Cambodian coronation.

In a deeply conciliatory gesture, the reinstated king hugged several Khmer Rouge soldiers who had recently defected. First Prime Minister Prince Ranariddh, standing by, said, “There are no more red or yellow Khmers. There are just Khmers.”

There have been several (*9?) amendments to the constitution since the signing on September 24, 1993.

The 1993 Cambodian Constitution can be read HERE

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