Putting aside political wrangling, the 123 newly elected parliamentarians braved heavy rains Saturday evening to be sworn in by King Norodom Sihanouk at a soggy ceremony outside the Royal Palace.
Leaders of the three main political parties joined the ceremony, which formally gave birth to a new National Assembly but offered no solution to the standoff between the ruling CPP and the Alliance of Democrats.
Palace officials and honor guard members shouted good wishes to King Sihanouk as he emerged from Tevear Vinichay temple and rewarded about 30 well-dressed guards with 40,000 riel each.
The ceremony was broadcast on TVK, and only TVK reporters were allowed inside the palace during the ceremony, despite a request from Information Minister Lu Laysreng to permit journalists to cover the event.
The King welcomed Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng as the first parliamentarian to arrive. Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh later walked side by side through the palace grounds, leading a train of Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians to the temple steps for a photograph.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and top CPP leaders Heng Samrin and Chea Sim arrived at the palace last and approached King Sihanouk together.
Strong winds and rain cut short a normally prolonged picture session, capturing only a few photographs of the smiling monarch and the new Assembly members. North Korean bodyguards then covered King Sihanouk with an umbrella and supported him for the 20-meter walk to the Serey Mukol temple.
Inside the temple, Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy ignored Prime Minister Hun Sen but shook hands with Chea Sim and National Assembly honorary president Heng Samrin inside the temple.
Party leaders sat clearly divided at a table, from which they took political oaths led by supreme monks Tep Vong and Bou Kry. Hun Sen sat between Heng Samrin and Chea Sim, while 75-year-old CPP parliamentarian Chea Soth, the oldest Assembly member, separated Chea Sim from Prince Ranariddh.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Sunday morning that he and the prime minister did not acknowledge each other throughout the evening.
“We pretended not to see each other,” he said.
At Tep Vong’s prompting, parliamentarians chanted, in unison, promises to serve the nation.
“We promise not to exploit the national interest for personal, family and partisan interests. We will sacrifice our lives, in the present time and in the future, to protect Cambodia’s independence, national sovereignty and territory, according to the law of the land and sea borders in 1963 and 1969,” parliamentarians said, echoing Tep Vong’s reading.
“We swear to fight against corruption, social injustice and to advocate a compromise for the nation to keep peace and national security,” they chanted.
Parliamentarians closed the ceremony sipping from small glasses of oath water for nearly an hour.
Sam Rainsy said politics was not on the menu for the royal feast that followed the oath.
“The King extended his welcome to his guests and discussed his music but did not [talk] about political affairs even one word,” Sam Rainsy said.
More than 300 police were stationed in the rain Saturday to block traffic and secure the palace, according to Bodyguard Department Director Sim Sophal.
The swearing-in ceremony is one of many phases in the new government’s formation, according to Constitutional Council member Say Bory. At least 87 parliamentarians must now convene at the Assembly to validate their immunity, he said Sunday.
After receiving immunity, it is the duty of the three political parties to elect Assembly leaders, he said, or the Assembly will be useless.
Saturday’s event, according to Sam Rainsy, makes the second mandate under Hun Sen a temporary government.
Om Yentieng, adviser to the prime minister, said Sunday that Hun Sen’s capacity in office remains as before.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith marked the occasion as a small step toward negotiations between the CPP and the Alliance.
“The swearing-in ceremony means that we have opened the door widely, which the Sam Rainsy Party closed,” he said. Khieu Kanharith maintained that a political compromise may be brokered only if the Alliance stops demanding a new prime minister.
Although the ruling and opposition party leaders made no effort to talk Saturday, conversations shared between Prince Ranariddh, Chea Sim and Chea Soth established a “good environment” for compromise, Khieu Kanharith said. No plans for negotiations were scheduled Sunday.