Free from the large crowds that have shadowed him since his royal pardon and return from self-exile last month, opposition leader Sam Rainsy led a delegation into the Royal Palace yesterday, where he emphatically expressed his support for the monarchy – but did not talk about the election, party officials said.
It was Rainsy’s first meeting with King Norodom Sihamoni since the pair met in Beijing about two years ago, his wife and Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Tioulong Saumura said last night.
“The main topic was thanking the King for the pardon ... and stressing that the position of the party is that the throne is a symbol of national unity,” Saumura said, adding the delegates had also paid respects to the memory of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
The delegation, which also included deputy president Kem Sokha and lawmakers-elect Mu Sochua and Son Chhay, had expressed to the King and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath that they believed the monarchy should be strengthened, she added.
“The stronger it is, the better it is for the stability of the country.”
CNRP senior official Ho Vann, who also attended, said the delegation had not talked about the election it claims to have won, but that Sokha had told the King and Queen Mother that his party had huge support.
“Mr President [Rainsy] also told the King he is determined to defend the throne that is a symbol and soul of the nation, defend our territory to assure peace, and help people live happily,” he said, adding that the royal response had been respectful pleasantries.
The CNRP’s sentiments were consistent with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s calls for peace and calm on Wednesday when he welcomed a joint committee investigation into alleged election irregularities during Sunday’s ballot, which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party claims to have won by 68 seats to 55.
The palace visit also raised questions about what – if any – role the King has in brokering a deal with the two major parties if a political deadlock ensues during or after a called-for joint investigation.
Earlier in the week, Son Soubert, an adviser to King Sihamoni and president of the Human Rights Party, ruled out the King’s involvement in such a review.
“I don’t think it’s the constitutional role of the King,” he told the Post. “He may intervene if there is a problem with security, but it’s not his role in this kind of matter.
“I think the two parties have to sort out the problem because the CNRP has requested a review and many people are not happy.”
But independent analyst Kem Ley pointed out that Sihanouk set a model of king-as-mediator during the Paris Peace Accords, and that it was not impossible to imagine his son might be called upon to play a similar role.
“[The King] always plays a political compromise. So the first step [in this case] would be to find these irregularities [through a committee] and both parties compromise.... If they cannot compromise, they both need to involve the King.”
Sihamoni’s father, Sihanouk, was a revered figure, a “god-king” to many over a long public life in which he regularly juggled regal and political roles.
“Sihanouk consolidated options and raised the best options,” Ley said. “He did not follow the CPP or the opposition. He just presented his option, after [calling on] many experts and diplomats.”
Sihamoni, however, studiously avoids politics, and his rare speeches in public are invariably neutral.
But because he is respected on both sides of politics, many would like to see him hold talks to calm things down if a deadlock ensued and turmoil loomed, Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said.
“It’s exactly the role of the King to bring about unity and reconciliation,” he said. “It’s a perfect role to play in a tense situation; [when] the country could be polarised, I think he would be able to talk to both sides and calm things down.”
But keeping the peace and brokering an outcome to a fierce struggle for parliamentary power are two different things.
Carlyle Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales, believes an opposition boycott of parliament, which must hold its first session 60 days after the poll, would result only in the CPP continuing its rule.
If that happens, "Hun Sen will just stay and keep ruling,” he said. “Who’s going to call him to account? The King? No.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID BOYLE