Following an opening session of parliament that was boycotted by Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, King Norodom Sihanouk on Saturday summoned all elected parliamentarians from the three main political parties to be sworn in to the National Assembly later this week.
In a letter, King Sihanouk called for a meeting on Saturday in his presence at the Royal Palace, in an attempt to alleviate the current political standoff.
The King said the swearing-in ceremony will proceed regardless of whether any of the three parties decide to attend.
“If one party or two parties don’t participate in the ceremony on Oct 4, I will still preside over the ceremony and the feast,” the King wrote. The meeting is scheduled for 5 pm.
His invitation met with positive responses from the three parties, which all agreed to attend.
“The King’s invitation will relieve the political tension right now,” CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Sunday. But he declined to say whether the CPP would meet the other parties beforehand to discuss the formation of a new government.
The other parties were similarly enthusiastic.
“We support the King’s invitation. The Funcinpec party’s 26 parliamentarians will participate in the ceremony,” Funcinpec spokesman Kassie Neou said Sunday.
Presiding over a half-empty Assembly, Senate President Chea Sim opened the third legislature on Saturday in the absence of Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers.
The ceremony was delayed almost an hour due to some confusion over whether King Sihanouk would attend.
The session consisted only of a brief speech by Chea Sim, who is also CPP president. The 73 CPP lawmakers in attendance were not sworn in.
Moments before the opening, parliamentary staff changed the sign inside the Assembly hall, taking down Chea Sim’s name and replacing it with the King’s before switching it back again.
In a statement, King Sihanouk said Saturday that he had been informed that the Sam Rainsy Party had suddenly changed its stance and decided to join the meeting about a half-hour before the ceremony was scheduled to start.
Due to this development, the King said he hastily prepared himself to go, but at the last minute, received confirmation that the opposition party would not be present.
The King had earlier stated he would have Chea Sim open the session in his place if any of the three main parties declined to participate.
The incident was received with outrage from opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who told the King in a letter on Sunday that his party’s stance “did not change one iota.”
After ironing out the confusion, Chea Sim walked into the Assembly through the front gate in a red-carpet entrance complete with a military honor guard.
About 700 police, military police and special forces units were sent to bolster security around the Assembly on Saturday, a senior police official told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Security forces blocked roads and set up checkpoints near the Assembly and could be seen standing on street corners and sitting in trucks with AK-47s, bullet-resistant vests and truncheons, DPA reported. Forces were also placed 15 km to 30 km along highways outside of Phnom Penh, according to DPA.
Several foreign diplomats were in the audience, including the ambassadors of Australia, Burma, Germany, Hungary, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
After the ceremony, some diplomats expressed hope for a quick resolution to the political standoff.
“We’re just frustrated by what happened this morning. I hope everything will go well soon,” Japanese Ambassador Gotaro Ogawa told reporters.
Neither Chea Sim nor Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed reporters after the ceremony.
From his party’s headquarters, Sam Rainsy said the opening session was not legitimate.
“It is a CPP meeting,” he said. “Today is supposed to be the birth of the National Assembly. But how can only half a baby be born today?… It’s not legal.”
However, a news release Saturday from the Assembly declared that the meeting was official.
Sam Rainsy said the Alliance of Democrats, formed between his party and Funcinpec, had affirmed its unity by staying out of the meeting as promised.
“The Alliance has proved its cohesion,” he said.
The King’s intervention by calling a swearing-in ceremony was praised by civil society groups.
“I would like to express my strong support for the King’s intervention. This is the best effort to find a solution, according to the democratic process,” said Chea Vannath, director of the Center for Social Development.
However, she said Sunday, due to the lack of dialogue between the three parties, “We can’t assume that the King’s intervention would break the political standoff.”
Intervention from King Sihanouk broke similar stalemates after the 1993 and 1998 elections.
Koul Panha, the director of Committee for Free and Fair Elections, added that parliamentarians should think about the national interest before their own.
(Additional reporting by Wency Leung)