In his biggest political dilemma to date, King Norodom Sihamoni has found himself being urged to act on the National Assembly’s vote to strip three opposition lawmakers of their immunity and the subsequent arrest of Cheam Channy.
Sam Rainsy Party members of parliament have written to the King, asking him to grant amnesty to Cheam Channy, but have not received a reply, opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann said Thursday.
“According to our Constitution, the King has the right to grant amnesty to everyone,” he said. “I don’t think he will ignore the situation. If he does, the country will become authoritarian.”
On Feb 3, US Senator Mitch McConnell in a statement urged the new King “to find his voice” over the situation. “The world awaits an indication of the character…of the new monarch,” McConnell wrote.
Those urging the new King to take action have pointed to past interventions by his father, retired King Norodom Sihanouk.
On March 21, 1998, then-King Sihanouk granted a full pardon to Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who had already been convicted in court. Earlier that month, Phnom Penh Military Court had sentenced Prince Ranariddh to 35 years in prison after convicting him of plotting a coup with the Khmer Rouge and of illegally buying weapons.
“The situation was more serious then,” opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said of the pardon. “Why not Cheam Chhany?”
If Cheam Chhany is convicted, the King will be in a position to pardon him, CPP parliamentarian Cheam Yeap said. “The fish is not yet cooked,” he said.
But some predict the King will not become embroiled in the issue.
One diplomat said that due to his nonpolitical background, it is unlikely that Sihamoni will navigate the situation in the same manner as his father, who was a politician for the better part of his life.
However, he added: “It’s important for a country to rely on institutions rather than personalities…. It means democracy is maturing.”
Another foreign diplomat said King Sihamoni has not yet developed the political credentials to intervene on the issue. The retired King is likely grooming the King to play a political role similar to his own when he is no longer able to, the diplomat said. Lao Mong Hay of the Center for Social Development said it is more appropriate for the King to continue his visits to the rural poor and bi-monthly meetings with senior politicians, rather than intervening in the situation. “Let him settle down and get a good rapport with the government,” Lao Mong Hay said. “To gain moral authority takes…time.”