With Funcinpec threatening to withdraw from the current coalition government, potentially plunging the country into a deeper political crisis, King Norodom Sihanouk on Tuesday called the three parties to an urgent meeting in North Korea.
“Currently, I am very concerned about the severe political crisis in Cambodia, which has been unsolved for nearly a year,” King Sihanouk wrote in an open letter from Pyongyang.
“I cannot ignore the fate of the nation and our people,” he said. “I have no will to interfere, bend, pressure or tyrannize any Cambodian politicians to follow my track. But I would like to advise the CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party to send a representative of each party to talk with me.”
King Sihanouk said the meeting, to be held at a yet unspecified date this month, would be to “exchange viewpoints to solve the grave political crisis.”
The meeting will not be secret, he said. North Korean President Kim Jong Il has agreed to allow technicians to record the proceedings for broadcast on TVK, the King said.
The King also offered to pay for some food, lodging and travel expenses.
Officials from the three main parties welcomed the King’s invitation Tuesday, though none would say which members of their party would attend.
Funcinpec President “Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen will write a joint letter to reply positively to the King,” CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said. He declined to comment further on the issue.
Funcinpec spokesman Kassie Neou said: “We are working out this problem.”
Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang expressed optimism over the King’s intervention.
“Only the King can solve the current deadlock,” he said.
Both postelection deadlocks in 1993 and 1998 were resolved through intervention by King Sihanouk.
The King’s letter comes a day after some 85 top Funcinpec government officials, including all royalist ministers, secretaries of state and undersecretaries of state, submitted their resignations to Prince Ranariddh, offering to withdraw from the current government if their president so decides.
Their mass resignation notice upped the ante on Funcinpec’s negotiations to form a new government with the CPP, after Hun Sen appointed new acting ministers from his own party to seize control of the Funcinpec-run ministries of education and justice.
An official Funcinpec withdrawal from the current coalition government would leave CPP in full control of the country, with dubious legitimacy.
Political observers, diplomats, and Funcinpec members themselves were watching closely for Prince Ranariddh’s decision.
Commenting on the likelihood that Funcinpec would indeed pull out of the government, Vora Huy Kanthoul, Funcinpec’s secretary of state for the Ministry of Rural Development, said: “We could be serious if we are pushed around.
“We feel it’s right administratively, but politically, it’s up to the prince. His decision, I suspect, will be based on how the other side reacts,” Vora Huy Kanthoul said.
If Funcinpec does resign en masse, the repercussions are unknown since Cambodia has no legal or constitutional guidelines for such a situation. But many agreed that democracy in Cambodia would be threatened if the CPP were left to govern alone. Already, the country has no functioning National Assembly, a Senate with little power and a Constitutional Council that some argue is ill-equipped to interpret the law.
Reached by telephone Thursday, Constitutional Council Chairman Bin Chhin declined to comment on the legality of Funcinpec’s resignation notice.
“Don’t ask me such things. I don’t comment,” he said.
Though Vora Huy Kanthoul said he was optimistic negotiations between the two parties would progress, he hoped a drastic move by Funcinpec would pressure the international community to intervene.
“International donors won’t do anything unless there is pressure. Now there is no government crisis. A government crisis happens when a coalition partner breaks out,” he said.
Political analyst Koul Panha also worried about a lack of checks and balances in the country, a system that could further disintegrate if the CPP were to continue governing without its coalition partner.
He too stressed the importance of the role of international donors.
“No institution can question the CPP. There’s no one strong enough to influence the CPP government. They are only afraid of international donors,” Koul Panha said Thursday. Those donors, he said, are “the only ones who can influence the CPP.”
One Western diplomat, however, said that was unlikely to happen.
“By Western standards, some governments are being impatient about” the current political deadlock, the diplomat said. “But we can’t interfere in Cambodian affairs…. I wouldn’t be self-confident the international community can help. We don’t have any tools to help this process.”
“It’s very simple: If you’re going to bite, you need to have teeth. I have my doubts the international community is really willing to bite,” he said.
Though donors are pushing for an end to the deadlock, they are not united in the direction the politicians should take, the diplomat said. He declined to be named, as the policies of his embassy do not allow him to publicly comment on Cambodia’s domestic affairs.
Li Zhi Gong of the Chinese Embassy said it was premature to comment on how China would respond to a Funcinpec withdrawal from the government.
“Up to now, the government has not changed,” Li said. “We wait and see if Funcinpec pulls out.”
Asked whether China still views the Cambodian government as legitimate, Li said: “I think so.”
(Additional reporting by Nhem Chea Bun)