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King bears burden of expectations

Prime Minister Hun Sen points a finger at opposition leader Sam Rainsy at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2008 as they await the return of the King after that year's election.
Prime Minister Hun Sen points a finger at opposition leader Sam Rainsy at Phnom Penh International Airport in 2008 as they await the return of the King after that year's election. HENG CHIVOAN

King bears burden of expectations

The arrival of King Norodom Sihamoni from Beijing this afternoon is expected to draw both Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition party leader Sam Rainsy to Phnom Penh International Airport to convey their greetings.

It will be the first time the political foes have appeared in public together since after the 2008 national election.

A similar political stalemate was resolved at this time five years ago when the Sam Rainsy Party reached an 11th-hour deal with ruling party officials to call off their planned boycott of the National Assembly.

Many observers are now hoping the return of Cambodia’s head of state will set a similar process into motion – a prospect Sam Rainsy did not reject yesterday.

“We will consider any proposals from the King.… We place the will of the Cambodian people higher than anything else. So as long as any solution proposed by the King takes [this] fully into account … we will definitely [consider it],” he told the Post.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party has long called for an independent probe into election irregularities, and on Sunday it announced it would boycott the opening session of the National Assembly – set for September 23 – if no such investigation is established.

Yet Rainsy yesterday was circumspect on whether the CNRP would still abide by a solution brokered by the King if it left such an investigation off the table.

“We will consider, we will see, but I cannot say in advance of my party on behalf of those who have placed their trust in us. But we will consider [it], because we respect the King,” he said.

Analysts yesterday speculated that the King’s return would pave the way for a political solution brokered by the monarchy, as happened after the 2003 election, bringing an end to almost a year of deadlock.

“If there was not [going to be] some sort of agreement, the King would not come back,” social and political researcher Kem Ley said, adding that the CNRP really “wants reform” and that its demonstrations were solely for its own political purposes.

“They learn from the past, and I’m sure that this is the single option,” he said.

The King left for Beijing on August 12 for what was billed as a routine and long-scheduled medical examination.

His return and the scheduled opening of Parliament were announced on Monday following Sunday’s release of official election results.

Political analyst Chea Vannath said yesterday that since all parties respect the monarchy and were becoming increasingly “mature”, it was likely that negotiations would bring an end to the impasse.

“So it seems like both the CPP and Sam Rainsy might have a secret meeting with the King. The King may play the role of broker as [he is] the highest institution in Cambodia,” she said.

Rainsy and other CNRP officials said yesterday that no meetings had been set with the King.

With the CNRP’s 55 opposition parliamentary seats giving them unprecedented political clout, it’s likely that big concessions would have to be made on the ruling party’s end to persuade the opposition to call off its boycott, analysts said.

“I think [they can ask for a lot more], because their constituents are more and more demanding and are more and more vocal,” Vannath said.

As for what bait could induce the CNRP to drop its parliamentary boycott, changes to the National Election Committee, a clearer separation of powers and more opposition input into national policymaking were all pointed to by analyst Ley.

Rainsy, however, was reluctant to discuss specific political concessions yesterday.

“It’s premature to start discussing these issues.… Our priority is not to … bury the issue of irregularities. We want this addressed first, and [then] there could be different possibilities,” he said.