The hopes of pundits that the King’s return would lead to a meeting between top ruling party and opposition leaders were dampened yesterday when Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy all but ignored each another at Phnom Penh International Airport.
About 50 high-ranking government, opposition and royal palace officials gathered in the rain to greet King Norodom Sihamoni as he arrived from Beijing. According to opposition officials, not even a nod was shared between Rainsy and Hun Sen, ostensibly because the logistics of the crowd prevented them coming face to face.
“There was no interaction whatsoever,” CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said after the event.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Rainsy, as the lower-ranking person, should have initiated any greeting between the pair.
“It [would not have been] appropriate for Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen and his winning party to greet Sam Rainsy,” he said.
Ou Virak, president at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the failure of the leaders to meet was “unfortunate”.
“I think people can have differences, but, at the end of the day, they should greet [each other]. It would be a good signal to be sending to the Cambodian public that none of us consider each other enemies,” he said.
Dark clouds gathered overhead as the leaders and their entourages waited – in separate VIP rooms – for the state plane carrying the King and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath to appear yesterday afternoon.
The King has spent nearly a month in Beijing for what was billed as a long-scheduled and regular medical check-up. As the political impasse has dragged on in recent weeks, many have looked to the monarchy as the final institution that can find a peaceful solution to the election stalemate – with hopes pegged that yesterday’s return would mark a breakthrough.
“The arrival of the King means that we hope to have a political resolution but with [the principles] of justice and transparency for the Cambodian people,” Rainsy told reporters at the airport yesterday.
He added, however, that the King and his mother had merely expressed their thanks to CNRP leaders for greeting them and that he was there to do nothing other than “pray” and welcome the head of state.
On Sunday, the CNRP sent a letter to the King along with a petition gathered during its mass demonstrations on Saturday asking for “justice to be found” for voters.
CNRP leaders have been insisting this week that they would like the King’s intervention to help solve the political impasse – though the specifics of what they would be prepared to concede have been left ambiguous.
On whether a meeting between the two parties was in the offing, Rainsy said yesterday the prospects for such a discussion would emerge as the situation develops.
“We all respect the King and we are waiting to hear the advice of the King, [which] we will all consider,” he said.
CPP lawmaker Yeap also said that a meeting was yet to be scheduled.
“As far as I know, there is no [green] light for a top-level meeting between the CPP and CNRP. [But] the CPP still, as always, has open skies [for any negotiations],” he said.
Although the King has pledged he will preside over the opening session of the National Assembly on September 23, the CNRP has announced it will boycott the session barring an independent investigation into election irregularities.
The CNRP has called on its supporters to join continuous demonstrations centred in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park from September 15-17 to call for such a probe.
Yesterday, party leaders and the Phnom Penh Municipality failed to agree at the meeting on whether protesters would be allowed to camp out overnight or on a limit on the number of demonstrators permitted.
The parties did, however, agree that any protests that do occur would not involve marching through the streets, City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said, though Rainsy made no such guarantee at the airport.
“The two points that we still cannot reach agreement is about [them] staying overnight there … and the number of people who can join the demonstrations,” Dimanche said. “According to the space at Freedom Park, 8,000 to 10,000 people would be enough. According to the law on non-violent protest, they can only demonstrate from 6am to 6pm. So [we] cannot approve as requested.”
He added that the party would need to submit these remaining requests to the Ministry of Interior for approval.
Lawmaker Mu Sochua said yesterday that her party would not obey any order from City Hall prohibiting its supporters from spending the night at Freedom Park.
“Although we have not received the green light [and] we have not come to an agreement with the government office on staying overnight, that will not change,” she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA