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A battle royal sparked

King Norodom Sihamoni (centre) and Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) pose for a photo with new parliamentarians at the National Assembly during the first parliament meeting in September
King Norodom Sihamoni (centre) and Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) pose for a photo with new parliamentarians at the National Assembly during the first parliament meeting in September last year.

A battle royal sparked

The government is threatening opposition leader Sam Rainsy with legal action, which could result in a year’s imprisonment, in response to a letter he wrote to King Norodom Sihamoni last week appearing to take issue with and criticise the King’s appraisal of parliament.

In a statement released on Saturday, the government argues that Rainsy “insulted” the monarchy, tried to “incite” the King to violate the Constitution and could face a conviction for not respecting a Constitutional Council decision regarding the legal formation of the National Assembly.

The Constitutional Council, which is in charge of “safeguarding” and interpreting the Constitution, is regulated by a law that stipulates penalties for anyone who “fails to respect” its decisions.

Rainsy has rejected the allegations but said in a statement that he could be made “liable to a harsh punishment given Cambodia’s politically subservient court”.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has boycotted its 55 seats in the National Assembly since it opened in September.

Rainsy wrote to the King on April 2, saying he “would like to tell his majesty” that the parliament was formed with only ruling Cambodian People’s Party lawmakers present and was thus a “one-party parliament” not representative of all Cambodians.

He added that the Constitution requires 120 lawmakers to swear in for a new parliament to officially be formed, an interpretation that has previously been contested by a number of lawyers and analysts.

Rainsy’s letter was prompted by a congratulatory letter sent by King Sihamoni to the National Assembly for the opening of its second session last week, in which he said he hoped the parliament, which was “representative of all Khmer people”, would solve its problems by “sticking persistently to multiparty democracy”.

In its statement, the government strongly condemned Rainsy for issuing what it described as a “serious insult” to the King: “The Royal Government understands that Excellency Sam Rainsy’s allegation truly and strongly violates the King and is also an abuse of the principle of rule of law in Cambodia,” it said.

Rainsy was inciting the King to act against the constitution, amounting to a “constitutional coup”, in addition to failing to respect a Constitutional Council decision from July 2003 that decided 120 lawmakers are not needed to be present for the National Assembly to open, according to the statement.

“So, this daring act of Excellency Sam Rainsy that does not respect the decision of the Constitutional Council could face [a] conviction according to Article 36 of the law on organisation and functioning of the constitutional council,” the government said. “The Royal Government will consider [taking] strict measures against [Sam Rainsy] to defend . . . the motto ‘Nation Religion King’ and the dignity of the nation.”

Similar statements condemning Rainsy have also been released by numerous ministries, the Senate, the National Assembly and the Cambodian People’s Party.

Article 36 of the Law on the Organisation and the Functioning of the Constitutional Council states that “any person who fails to respect the decision of the Constitutional Council” could face up to a year in prison.

In a statement released on Saturday, Rainsy accused the CPP of “planning to use their Kangaroo Court again to silence their opponents”.

“The CPP seems determined to punish me, because I dare continuously question the legitimacy of the Hun Sen government. But, as always, they are using a very poor pretext, not only the substance but also on the façade, because the letter I wrote to the King was a private one, like the countless letters that I used to write to the late and respected King Father Norodom Sihanouk,” he said.

Oum Daravuth, chief of the King’s cabinet, declined to comment on the matter yesterday.

When reached yesterday, Rainsy said he had written to the King because he respected and loved him, in contrast to a “powerful person who threatened to eliminate the monarchy” in 2005. He added that he was unafraid of any threats made by the government.

In an October 2005 speech broadcast on TVK, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he had told Prince Norodom Ranariddh that if King Sihamoni did not sign off on a controversial border treaty with Vietnam, Cambodia should “reconsider whether we should keep the monarchy or change to a republic with a president instead”.

Son Soubert, privy counsellor to the King and an opposition party politician, said he did not think the government’s accusations had any basis.

“Mr Sam Rainsy just told the King what the truth is, and I don’t think he can be accused of inciting the King to do things that are not constitutional,” said Soubert, president of the Human Rights Party.

King Sihamoni, in contrast to his father, has preferred to stay out of politics. He presided over the opening of parliament in September last year despite hundreds of thousands of petitions asking him to delay the process due to the ongoing political deadlock, sparked by allegations of irregularities around the July election.

In Rainsy’s letter, he said that in the “same situation” following the 2003 election, Sihanouk had refused to preside over the opening of parliament.

Prominent lawyer Sok Sam Oeun yesterday said that there was no legal basis on which to convict Rainsy, because no such conviction is in the penal code.

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