A Royal Palace official yesterday said the letter sent by opposition leader Sam Rainsy to King Norodom Sihamoni last week that elicited a furious response from the government for “insulting” the King, did not, in fact, disrespect the monarch’s “honour and name”.
A statement signed by Oum Daravuth, advisor to the secretariat of Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, while disagreeing with Rainsy’s characterisation of the National Assembly as a one-party legislature, brushes aside the idea that Rainsy’s letter had insulted the King.
“Your statement, ‘The present parliament which was established on September 23, 2013, is a single party parliament’, is not true, because 123 parliamentarians had been announced, including the parliamentarians of the CNRP. However, only 68 CPP parliamentarians took the oath in the Royal Palace,” the statement says.
“As to the wording used in your letter, I believe that it does not cause any serious impact on the honour and name of the King.”
Daravuth declined to comment further when reached yesterday.
The statement came after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced yesterday morning that the government could push forward before Khmer New Year with plans to sue Rainsy for disrespecting a 2003 Constitutional Council decision, which it said stipulated that 120 lawmakers did not need to swear-in for a new parliament to be formed.
“The law experts are looking [into this]. [We] could sue before Khmer New Year regarding the letter. [He should] be careful, because he won’t be happy during Khmer New Year [if he is] in Prey Sar [prison],” the premier said during a graduation ceremony for accounting students on Koh Pich.
“[But] don’t say that [we] are just threatening this. No, for this, [we] are serious, not joking.”
While the premier admitted there was no legal basis to convict Rainsy for insulting the King, the opposition leader could certainly be found guilty for opposing a decision of the Constitutional Council, he said.
The Law on the Organisation and 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.
A number of government spokespeople could not be reached yesterday to comment on whether the government would still go ahead with a lawsuit given the Royal Palace’s response.
Yesterday, Hun Sen also mocked Rainsy for fleeing the country and taking refuge at foreign embassies when faced with arrest in the past.
“Why do you rely on foreign embassies [to hide]? [You] cannot rely on those embassies.… I told an ambassador a few years ago that in his excellency’s embassy, I won’t arrest anyone. If the excellency brings [him] to the airport in excellency’s car, I also won’t arrest. When [he gets] into the plane, even if the plane starts to move … I will invite it back and then arrest [him] without a problem.”
The Royal letter firestorm erupted after Rainsy wrote to the King on April 2, appearing to take issue with a congratulatory letter the King had sent for the opening of the second session of the National Assembly last week which said the parliament was “representative of all Khmer people”.
In Rainsy’s letter, he contested that interpretation, saying that as his party was boycotting its 55 seats in parliament, leaving only 68 CPP lawmakers present, the assembly was not representative of all Cambodians.
On Saturday, the government released a scathing statement in response, which was followed by a plethora of statements from at least 10 ministries, the governors of numerous provinces and even army units deployed on the Cambodia-Thai border backing up the government’s position.
The Phnom Penh Municipality’s statement supporting the government said that “all the people in Phnom Penh strongly support” the government’s condemnation of Rainsy, which accused him of insulting the monarchy and attempting to mount a “constitutional coup”.
Rainsy declined to comment specifically on yesterday evening's statement but had earlier told supporters at his party’s first anniversary celebration that he was unafraid of legal threats and was willing to go to jail.
He also accused Hun Sen of insulting the King in the past.
“You yourself used to insult the King, so why do you accuse [me] of being opposed to the King?” he said.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights chairman Ou Virak said yesterday that while the furore over the King could have raised “broader questions” about the monarchy, “there [is] no substance to any of this debate”.
“The sad reality is that this is basically politics of convenience. The opposition will use the King whenever this is convenient for them and the the CPP will do the same. There is no principle [in] any of this.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA