KING Norodom Sihanouk has returned to Cambodia as behind-the-scenes tension
between political factions is growing increasingly public and
Apparent political lobbying over the role of the King and over
the government's policy on the outlawed Khmer Rouge has led to series of
forthright statements by key leaders.
The King, who is expected to spend
much of his three-and-a-half months in Cambodia in Siem Reap and Battambang, has
so far remained publicly quiet since his return from his Beijing home, on Jan
On Dec 27, Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) president Son Sann
made an "urgent appeal" to the leaders of the coalition government - of which
his party in the smallest member - to offer King Sihanouk "all powers necessary"
to realize his crusade for national reconciliation.
Some saw the
statement as a sign of BLDP's implied willingness to let King Sihanouk assume
power as ruler, a move banned by the current constitution which says the King
"holds the throne but shall not hold power".
Several days after the
appeal, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh's Cabinet issued a
statement saying the will of the people could only be implemented through
Cambodia's democratic institutions.
The statement also referred to Prime
Ranariddh, head of the royalist Funcinpec party, as a "Santa Claus" to his
Prince Ranariddh himself, asked what "all powers necessary"
meant, replied: "You should ask Samdech Son Sann himself. Who can change the
He reaffirmed the King's determination to abide by the
country's supreme legislature, the National Assembly, and said that changing the
constitution would mean not taking into account the will of the
Meanwhile, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) seemed to enter the
fray on Jan 7, the 16th anniversary of the Vietnamese-backed revolution which
toppled the Khmer Rouge's Pol Pot regime in 1979.
Chea Sim, CPP member
and Chairman of the National Assembly, delivered an anniversary speech in which
he attacked "certain politicians and opportunists". In an apparent reference to
the BLDP statement for national reconciliation, he said some people wanted to
destroy the constitution and seize power by "playing the Khmer Rouge
"This is adventurous politics, a fatal danger for history, for the
people as well as for themselves," he said. "The outlawed Khmer Rouge and a
group of opportunists are looking down with contempt on the vital interests of
the Cambodian people."
Some in the 3000-strong anniversary party
gathering, which foreign diplomats were invited to witness, carried banners like
"We are absolutely against any attempts to destroy the constitution in any shape
or form, and from whatever source".
Chea Sim described the era of the
CPP's governance of the country as historical and glorious days which reminded
Cambodians of their suffering and terror under the former KR
Pointing out that Jan 7 was also the six-month anniversary of the
National Assembly's outlawing of the KR, he said: "This decision shows the will
and the determination of our people. They will not allow the genocidal regime to
take place again on this beautiful Land of Angkor."
Political observers, who asked not to be named, said BLDP's goal of achieving
national reconciliation involved having the KR included in the coalition - a
proposal strongly opposed by the Royal Government, especially the
Second Premier Hun Sen, CPP's vice-president, left no doubt about
his position in his comments at the ceremony: "I'd like to reaffirm that article
17 of the constitution does not allow the MPs to make any amendment... the
provision [that] the King reigns but does not rule categorically cannot be
Speaking to reporters at the ceremony, Hun Sen warned that
those who tried to destroy the constitution would face the force of the
"This is not a threat, but I already did it in the
case of [the July coup plotters] Chakrapong, Sin Song and Sin Sen," he said. "In
my capacity as a Prime Minister and a commander-in-chief, I will use forces to
protect the constitution."
In a further statement, the BLDP defended
itself from criticism and insisted its earlier appeal would not violate the
constitution if accepted, within the law, by the National Assembly and the
The Khmer Rouge itself, meanwhile, appeared to enter
the debate when it issued a call for peace and national
KR nominal leader Khieu Samphan, in a Jan 7 radio
broadcast, said: "All of us can see the situation cannot be solved through
"If the government does not end the fighting, its action should
be considered a great crime."
A foreign diplomat in Phnom Penh agreed
that political tension appeared to be increasing.
"It looks like somebody
is making the situation tense despite the fact that the King has returned. The
King has been very quiet."
The diplomat said the CPP threats against
opponents were quite serious and not democratic - "For a democracy you have to
have different views."