King Norodom Sihamoni, Queen Mother Monineath and senior officials of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government inaugurated a memorial statue to the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk on Friday, though the event was not without controversy due to the noticeable absence of the CNRP’s 55 elected parliamentarians.
Neither King Sihamoni nor the Queen Mother spoke at the ceremony to unveil the $1.2 million bronze statue of the late Norodom Sihanouk, who passed away on October 15 last year following an illness. He was 89.
In a speech, Mr. Hun Sen recounted the nation-building achievements of the late King, who led the country to independence from France in 1953, and called on the public to honor the memory of the late monarch every October 15 long into the future.
“I hope that successors in hundreds of years will still keep October 15 for the people to respect the spirit of the nation’s King Father,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
Absent from the ceremony, which included thousands of school children who lined the short route from the Royal Palace to the memorial site in the park near Independence Monument, were the opposition CNRP’s 55 lawmakers-elect. A spokesman for the party said Friday that they had been invited at the very last minute and that the dress code for the state ceremony effectively excluded them.
The CNRP parliamentarians have not taken their seats in the National Assembly as part of continued protests over the results of July’s national election, which they say needs to be thoroughly and independently investigated due to widespread irregularities.
“We received the invitation letter just yesterday [Thursday], so most of our lawmakers cannot return to Phnom Penh to attend the ceremony since they were in distant provinces helping flood victims,” CNRP spokesman Nhem Ponhearith said on Friday.
Mr. Ponhearith also said that the invitation, which arrived Thursday afternoon, stipulated that participants must wear the government’s official “grade 2” uniform, which is the official dress of members of parliament.
As the CNRP’s lawmakers have not yet been sworn-in as members of parliament, “we cannot go,” Mr. Ponhearith said.
The requirement to wear the uniform of a National Assembly member to the inauguration ceremony excluded the CNRP, another party spokesman, Yim Sovann, said.
“We didn’t go because we haven’t yet sworn in at the Royal Palace so we are not officially parliamentarians,” Mr. Sovann said.
To honor the late King Father’s memory, the CNRP will hold its own ceremony at the memorial statue on Monday morning with 90 monks and about 400 guests, Mr. Ponhearith said.
CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap said the CNRP’s “excuse” for not attending the ceremony was disingenuous, and warned the opposition that they would need official approval from the government to hold a ceremony on Monday.
“If they wanted to attend, they could have dressed in another decent outfit. But they used this as an excuse,” Mr. Yeap said.
“When they are officially invited to join in the official ceremony they rejected, but they instead show up on another day causing security problems,” he said.
Asked if the opposition planned on notifying government officials of the ceremony on Monday, the CNRP’s Mr. Ponhearith was evasive.
“The statue of the late King Father is for all. So every Cambodian can come and pay their respect in front of his statue,” he said.
Oum Daravuth, a member of King Sihamoni’s Royal Cabinet, said the responsibility for inviting guests to Friday’s event was left to the government’s organizing committee for national and international ceremonies, and not with the Royal Palace.
Mr. Daravuth said that he did not know how King Sihamoni felt about the absence of opposition officials at the ceremony, as he had not received an invitation to attend the ceremony.
“I am in the Royal Palace, but I am not invited to participate,” he said, declining to comment further. “This ceremony was not prepared by the Royal Palace. This was not the fault of the Royal Palace.”