Weighing in on the controversial proposal to cancel the 2004 Senate elections for lack of funding, King Norodom Sihanouk on Tuesday suggested two alternatives to appointing a new Senate and vehemently defended his view that the body must be elected.
“The National Assembly could either extend the current term of the Senators or eliminate the Senate to return to the original system of 1993 to 1997,” when the Assembly was the single legislative body, the King wrote in the margins of an article in Tuesday’s Cambodia Daily.
These suggestions seem aimed at avoiding the appointment of a new, nonelected batch of senators, which the King has said he would refuse to do.
King Sihanouk hastened to add that “This is only an opinion. This is not an interference.” By law, the King is above political involvement.
Similarly, in comments on an article about the proposal in Tuesday’s Cambodge Soir, the King wrote, “How can I interfere in ‘political matters’ when I am only defending the People and their Sovereignty?”
He added, “Does the King ‘violate’ Democracy when he refuses for himself a Power that should revert to the People?”
Funcinpec and CPP officials say they are discussing an idea, which originated with the CPP, to cancel next year’s constitutionally mandated Senate elections and have King Sihanouk appoint the senators instead.
The plan, which would require a constitutional amendment, became public last week when Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh voiced his support for it.
After holding local elections in 2002 and national elections in 2003, the prince said the government won’t be able to afford another vote in 2004.
But on Wednesday outside the National Assembly, the prince told journalists that the involvement of the King—his father—in the issue prevented him from commenting on it further. The Constitution states that the King is inviolable.
Critics, including the Sam Rainsy Party, have reacted with outrage to the idea.
“If Cambodia cannot afford to finance the senatorial elections, it would be better to suppress a Senate made up of nonelected senators, which would be a costly and totally useless institution,” opposition lawmakers said in a statement on Sunday.
On Tuesday, King Sihanouk also reacted angrily to the idea that canceling the election would be in the best interests of the Cambodian people.
“Can anyone love the People more than I, who have always served and defended them passionately?” the King wrote.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)