CNRP Asks the King to Intervene, but Prince Says Bad Idea

Fifty-three lawmakers from the CNRP have written to King Norodom Sihamoni asking him to intervene to end what they describe as the CPP’s absorption and abuse of state institutions, although a prominent royal member of the party said on Thursday that he believed the letter was unwise.

The letter, dated Wednesday, noted the recent jailing of CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An and Senator Hong Sok Hour despite their immunity from arrest, as well as the recent summonses of staff from rights group Adhoc and a U.N. official as examples of the chaotic situation.

King Norodom Sihamoni greets government officials during Independence Day celebrations in Phnom Penh in November. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
King Norodom Sihamoni greets government officials during Independence Day celebrations in Phnom Penh in November. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“Recently, a number of politicians, environmental defenders, a member of the Senate and a lawmaker have been arrested, and there are restrictions on civil society and the unions…as well as threats to arrest civil society officials in Cambodia, as well as complaints lodged against analysts,” the letter said.

It specified the recent passage of the widely criticized NGO law and trade union law as examples of restrictions on civil society and unions, describing them as part of the “deteriorating political situation.”

“If there is no timely solution,” it continued, “today’s deteriorating situation will make Cambodia walk backward, because the top institutions, like the National Assembly and the court system…have lost their independence—except for the monarchy, who has independence and the highest role as arbiter.”

As the basis of its request to King Sihamoni, the letter cited Article 9 of the Constitution, which states: “The king shall assume the august role of arbitrator to ensure the faithful execution of public powers.”

Yet Prince Sisowath Thomico, the only royal to openly support the CNRP, and its candidate for lawmaker in Preah Sihanouk province during the 2013 national election, said he believed the letter was ill-advised as the king’s position should be kept above politics.

“I am very sorry that the CNRP did not consult me on this. I would have told them this: He cannot intervene,” Prince Thomico said. “There are judicial processes, court processes, and he’s the king. What can he do?”

“Even Hun Sen says he cannot intervene in the courts,” the prince said, adding that the principle was more important than the question of whether Mr. Hun Sen actually interfered with the judiciary.

“Whether we believe this does not matter. The point is that according to the Constitution, certain people have certain powers, and the king should not intervene. He cannot interfere with the judiciary,” Prince Thomico said.

“If there were to be a clash between the CNRP and the CPP, then perhaps he could intervene to bring back peace and unity, but now there are no clashes.”

Yet CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said there were legal avenues for King Sihamoni, as the head of state, to delicately intervene in the situation without becoming embroiled in an interparty political dispute.

“Of course he’s outside of politics, but he’s also the head of state,” Mr. Chhay said. “In his role as head of state and his role as head of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, he has obligations to ensure justice and the unity of his citizens.”

Mr. Chhay cited Article 20 of the Constitution, which states, “The king shall grant an audience twice a month to the prime minister and the Council of Ministers to hear their reports on the state of the nation,” as an unused avenue by which the king could intervene.

The lawmaker noted that such meetings between King Sihamoni and Mr. Hun Sen do not take place.

“You cannot just use the word ‘politicizing’ or talk about bringing the king into a political dispute, because he has not been fulfilling his role for a long time, and he has to explain to the public his reasons,” he said.

“By keeping quiet about this, it’s not very good for his majesty. So we are just reminding everyone to respect his role as his majesty in the Constitution.”

Oum Daravuth, an adviser to the royal family, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

CPP lawmaker Sok Eysan said he believed the opposition was inventing its claim that the situation was deteriorating so badly it required the king’s intervention—and said that the king’s response would be telling.

“I’m waiting to see whether The Cambodia Daily packs up to flee or starts digging trenches. If not, this proves that such a claim is wrong,” he said.

“I’ll wait to see what his majesty will do. If his majesty keeps calm, I’ll think that the CNRP’s request was meaningless.”

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