King Says He Will Give Up Throne

King Norodom Sihanouk wrote Tuesday from his palace in North Korea that he will abdicate the throne when parliament convenes.

The King, who has been sidelined in the recent rush to form a new coalition government, wrote that he will ask permission from North Korea’s Kim Jung Il to stay indefinitely in Pyongyang and hand over his crown when the Crown Council forms.

“I have the honor to inform my respected and beloved compatriots that I shall abdicate as the King of Cambodia when the Crown Council, with all its members, shall be in the position to receive my official letter…offering my formal resignation,” the King wrote in a message posted to his Web site.

The nine-member Throne Council lacks three members from the National Assembly, which is expected to convene Thursday and draw to a close the nearly yearlong political stalemate.

The King has threatened to abdicate on several occasions during his reign, usually to express displeasure with the country’s leadership or direction.

Now the monarch faces the prospect of a so-called “package vote,” a measure that many say is unconstitutional and undemocratic.

Endorsed by both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the package vote calls for parliamentarians to elect both Cabinet and National Assembly posts in a single vote, virtually ensuring that the two party leaders retain their posts.

The vote will be held by a public show of hands, a move that has brought further criticism by the opposition and human rights groups.

Sam Rainsy, who wrote to the King regarding the package vote on Monday, said it may be the cause of his vow to abdicate.

“I think all this contributed to the King’s decision,” the opposition leader said. “I am very worried.”

The country’s traditional peace broker, the King has remained conspicuously silent since Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen shaped a power-sharing deal late last month that will end the 11-month-long deadlock.

Only days before announcing that surprise agreement, Sam Rainsy and some royalists said a three-party meeting at the King’s Pyongyang palace was the only way out of the stalemate.

A similar meeting in November at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh proved fruitless, and the King left soon afterward for medical treatment in China and, later, North Korea.

Despite prior warnings of abdication, “this time he is really, really serious,” one royalist Cabinet member who is close to the King said Tuesday. “This may be the last warning.”

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the Constitution does not specify any procedure for abdication, meaning the King can not leave the throne.

“The King must stay the King for life,” said Khieu Kanharith.

In the King’s prolonged absence, increasing attention has been focused on Prince Ranariddh as the key to ending the political standoff.

The globetrotting prince, this week in the Philippines, has frequently put negotiations on hold because of his departures.

Speaking on Cabinet and provincial positions that Funcinpec will grant the opposition party, royalist party Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh deferred the decision to the prince.

“I hope when the prince is back, I will meet with Sam Rainsy one or two times to discuss sharing” government positions, Prince Sirivudh said.

Similarly, Khieu Kanharith told reporters the CPP was waiting for the prince to finalize plans for the package vote—now only a day away from going to the Assembly for approval on Thursday.

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