King Urged to Speak Up After Assembly Vote

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.”


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