King Norodom Sihanouk left Phnom Penh Monday morning to seek medical treatment in Beijing, leaving the three main political parties to navigate the more-than-five-month long political deadlock on their own.
Speaking to reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport, King Sihanouk said he hoped the parties would agree on how to form a new government before his expected return ahead of the Khmer New Year.
“I beg the three political parties to compromise, to be a family, to serve the people,” King Sihanouk said, before boarding a China Southern Airlines plane with Queen Norodom Monineath.
The King, who turned 81 in October, said doctors had informed him he required treatment for problems with his liver, heart and blood vessels.
He said he would stay in Beijing for two and one-half months and would be back in Phnom Penh by April, though he did not give a specific date for his return.
Officials from all three political parties, as well as a number of
foreign diplomats, were at the airport to see the King and Queen off.
Included in the crowd of well-wishers were Prime Minister Hun Sen and Senate President Chea Sim of the ruling CPP, who takes over as acting Head of State in the King’s absence from the country. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh were also there.
Sam Rainsy and Prince Sirivudh were not seen speaking to either of the two CPP leaders.
King Sihanouk told reporters that the CPP’s Hor Namhong, the minister of foreign affairs, had visited him at the Royal Palace on Sunday. He asked the King about the possibility of creating a two-party government of CPP and Funcinpec officials.
In a Nov 5 meeting chaired by the King, the three main political parties had agreed in principle to form a tripartite coalition government. But official talks between them broke down late last month after the parties were unable to make any progress on how it should be created.
Since the July 27 general elections, a new government and the leadership of the new National Assembly have yet to be determined.
The King said he would not object to the formation of a two-party government, as long as it would put an end to the deadlock.
“I am neutral to all political parties but I would like to inform that I will satisfy [any proposal] if it can solve the problem,” he said. “Whether we form a tripartite or bipartite government is up to the three political parties. They can meet and then decide what to do.”
He offered the parties the option of holding further negotiations at the Royal Palace, urging them to restart talks soon.
Hor Namhong could not be reached for comment Monday, but Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng said the foreign minister’s suggestion of a two-party government was in line with the CPP’s intentions.
But, he said, “We can form the government with three political parties or with two political parties. The CPP doesn’t mind.”
Om Yentieng added that the CPP could work in a bipartite government with either Funcinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party.
Officials from Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party’s Alliance of Democrats, however, rejected the idea.
“Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party respect the Nov 5 agreement. We will negotiate in order to form a tripartite government,” Funcinpec spokesman Kassie Neou said.
In recent weeks, some 200 low-ranking Funcinpec members put their names on two letters to their party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is currently in France, expressing their dissatisfaction with the party’s alliance with the Sam Rainsy Party.
Kassie Neou, however, said the two parties would stay united. He added Prince Ranariddh would return to Phnom Penh next week, having failed to return on Sunday as earlier scheduled.
Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang added that he believed Hor Namhong’s proposal to the King was an attempt to split the Alliance.
The Alliance has insisted the CPP must adopt and implement its policy proposals for the new government before they negotiate on government and legislative positions. The CPP has maintained it wants to hold a simultaneous Assembly vote to determine the new legislative and government positions.