At a ceremony marking four years since the death of the late King Norodom Sihanouk, deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha on Saturday called for the soul of the monarch to return to Cambodia and unite the country.
Government ministries, meanwhile, marked the occasion in a morning procession placing floral wreaths at the statue of King Sihanouk on Sihanouk Boulevard in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Sokha’s call for the late king’s spirit to help heal the country came just days after a failed attempt by the CNRP to secure royal pardons from King Norodom Sihamoni for convicted and imprisoned party members.
“On behalf of children who were used to life under the leadership of your majesty, may your soul rest in peace and please return to help our country,” Mr. Sokha said during a Buddhist ceremony at the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.
“Today, we together tell his soul that Khmers are not yet united and are still breaking, killing and persecuting each other,” he said. “So please, your majesty with your soul resting in peace, use your power to lift up Khmer politicians to unite the nation again and find reconciliation for all Khmers to be happy.”
Mr. Sokha was sentenced last month to five months in prison for refusing to appear in court over a “prostitution” case against his alleged mistress, but authorities have said he will not face arrest until appeals have been heard. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy remains in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year prison sentence, while 18 opposition figures have been jailed since May in what is widely seen as a legal assault meant to smother the CNRP as elections approach.
Unlike King Sihanouk, who ruled the country as a prince in the 1950s and 1960s and maintained a prominent role as a voice of moral authority when relative peace was restored in the 1990s, King Sihamoni has shown no interest in stepping into the political fray. Upon receiving the pardon plea from Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha last week, he promptly forwarded it to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who rejected the request.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said that he did not think the opposition would have any more luck by invoking the soul of King Sihanouk, who he referred to by his royal honorific.
“I think His Majesty Preah Borom Ratanak Kodh Norodom Sihanouk has helped those who respect the law, but he can’t help those who violated the law,” Mr. Eysan said.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, a prominent member of the CNRP and the longtime chief of cabinet for King Sihanouk, said he welcomed Mr. Sokha’s call for the late king’s posthumous intervention.
“The only way is to talk together and it was the habit of King Sihanouk to gather political parties together to find a solution,” he said, adding that King Sihamoni had no intention of following in his father’s footsteps.
“King Sihamoni has never been involved in politics and never wants to be involved,” he said. “So it’s not a matter of legality, it’s a matter of personality.”
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)