King Norodom Sihanouk said he will not open the third term of the National Assembly in response to opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s refusal to attend the parliament’s inauguration ceremony.
“I have clearly announced to the nation that if on Sept 25, 26 or 27, one or two parties among the three elected parties that people voted for on July 27, 2003, do not go to our National Assembly, I, King Norodom Sihanouk, will also not go to the National Assembly,” he said in a statement released Tuesday.
Sam Rainsy sent a letter to the King on Monday declining to attend the initial Assembly meeting, during which all parliamentarians are expected to be sworn in. He said Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers would not join the meeting because the party’s complaints over the July 27 general election were not properly addressed. The party demanded a recount in Svay Rieng and Kompong Thom provinces.
“We believe if we don’t get a recount in those two locations, we cannot attend,” Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang said.
An invitation to the Assembly was issued on Monday by Kong Som Ol, minister of the Royal Palace, on behalf of King Sihanouk. It said the ceremony would take place at 10 am on Sept 27.
But Ung Bun-Ang said the party did not recognize the invitation because it was not written by the King himself.
“It’s a terrible letter. We cannot accept this as official,” he said.
Under the Constitution, a new Assembly must convene within 60 days of the election.
But, Ung Bun-Ang said, “The Constitution does not say we have to attend.”
The opposition’s latest move reversed its earlier decision to participate in the ceremony. Ung Bun-Ang said the change was necessary after further reflection on the party’s strategy.
He said the decision was not set in stone, adding that Sam Rainsy Party members did not know what the ramifications of their absence could be.
Funcinpec officials on Tuesday said they supported the Sam Rainsy Party’s decision, a day after some Funcinpec officials said they, too, would urge their parliamentarians to avoid the Assembly meeting.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Tuesday said a setback for the new Assembly would not derail the work of the current government.
“I don’t mind if the Sam Rainsy Party doesn’t join the National Assembly, because the current government will still continue,” Khieu Kanharith said. But, he said, “Sam Rainsy should respect the constitutional law and the King’s invitation.”
Appearing on state-run television TVK on Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Hun Sen denied rumors that the CPP was trying to buy the votes of other parties’ parliamentarians. The Constitution requires that the new government be approved by two-thirds of the Assembly—a condition the CPP cannot fulfill alone with 73 seats, or 60 percent, of the parliament.
“The [members of parliament] are not like piglets that we can trade or buy,” Hun Sen said in his televised address from Siem Reap. “If they come to join us, they do it voluntarily.”
Hun Sen added that he refused to form a coalition with the Sam Rainsy Party, ruling out the possibility of a three-party government. He said Sam Rainsy Party members should remain in an opposition role.
“The people do not want them to sit with the CPP,” he said.
Ung Bun-Ang, however, said he still believed the CPP could soon begin negotiations with Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party’s Alliance of Democrats to resolve the political impasse.
“I’m still optimistic the three parties are mature. I hope they will make decisions for the interests of the nation ahead of personal ones,” he said.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the government named some of the replacements for the 17 Funcinpec officials who were removed from their current government positions late last week. Subdecrees outlining the government shuffle were signed by Hun Sen on Friday, demoting many of the Funcinpec provincial and district governors to municipal staff and unspecified Ministry of Interior roles.
The 17 included four Funcinpec undersecretaries of state, whose dismissals were approved by the King on Monday. The King signed for the removal of Noranarith Anadayath of the Council of Ministers, You Bunna of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Nouch Siratha of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and Mao Havannal of the Civil Aviation Secretariat.
The undersecretaries have not been appointed to new government positions, nor have they been replaced.
All of the replacements named on Tuesday were CPP members, skewing the balance of the current government, which formerly had about half Funcinpec officials.
Hun Sen’s dismissal of the Funcinpec officials violated the 1998 agreement between Funcinpec and the CPP under which the two parties formed the coalition government, royalist party members said.
“The agreement is no longer good,” Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Ok Socheat said Monday. But for now, Funcinpec officials will continue to do their jobs in the existing government, he said.
(Additional reporting by Wency Leung)
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