King’s Announced Departure Increases Coalition Pressures

King Norodom Sihanouk’s possible departure from Cambodia next week puts pressure on tenuous multi-party talks to form a coalition government, politicians and experts said Wednesday.

If the King goes to Beijing for medical treatment, as aides have reportedly said, Cambodia will be without a head of state because a new National Assembly president has not been formally appointed. Under the Constitution, the As­sembly president becomes acting head of state in the absence of the monarch.

The head of state plays a largely symbolic role, presiding over annual ceremonies and meeting foreign dignitaries as the nation’s top leader, but also has certain constitutional powers.

Funcinpec Secretary-General Tol Lah said the CPP raised the issue of the National Assembly president in the first round of coalition talks Tuesday and pushed for the Assembly to meet quickly to vote on the new leader.

But Funcinpec maintains there are too many alleged election violations that must be addres­sed.

“Forcibly choosing the president of the National Assembly is too premature when many post-election problems have not been solved first,” Tol Lah said.

The 75-year-old King Sihanouk is said to be suffering from a variety of ailments, including colon cancer. Senior Funcinpec officials said the monarch will board a plane directly from Siem Reap, where he has been staying since April, to Beijing next Monday. Palace officials on Wednesday would not confirm the trip, saying there had been “no official an­nouncement.”

CPP spokesman Khieu Kan­harith said he doubted press re­ports of the King’s departure, but said that if the monarch does leave and there is no elected president for the Assembly, “political tension could increase.”

CPP President Chea Sim was the National Assembly President until last week.

Chan Sok, the president of the Constitutional Council, said he could not specify who would become head of state because there is no provision for this situation in the Constitution.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy told the Thai newspaper The Nation on Tuesday that when the King leaves, Cambodia will need help from the international community. “There is no government, no legal authority, so the country needs assistance and scrutiny-monitoring from the UN, friends like the US, Asean, European Union, Japan and Australia,” he said.

One possible substitute for the head of state could be the dean of the National Assembly, politicians suggested this week.

The dean’s job goes to the oldest member of the National As­sembly: Funcinpec parliamentarian Ing Kieth. The dean’s main function is to preside over the election of the Assembly’s leadership posts during its first meeting.

On Sunday, Tol Lah said coalition negotiations needed to in­clude a review of the dean’s role.

“His responsibility is very limited,” Tol Lah said, adding that perhaps the job’s description should be reviewed.

“When the King is leaving, if we cannot agree on the president of the National Assembly, then as dictated in the Constitution, the role of the dean needs to be looked at and possibly expanded,” said Funcinpec parliamentarian Pok Than. “But that’s just in case the King leaves.”

Pok Than denied allegations that any enlargement of the dean’s role would be a stalling tactic in negotiations. “This is not going to be an interim government,” he said. “It’s just trying to figure out how to replace the King in his absence.”

The organization of the Na­tion­al Assembly and who will take its senior posts are expected to be discussed in talks on Mon­day.

Additionally, Tol Lah said Funcinpec is still pushing for a review of a mathematical formula used to allocate seats in the National Assembly, amnesties for five party members and an end to “political repression” against party activists.

Tol Lah said the ru­mored arrest of protesters from recent anti-government demonstrations, and subpoenas and a travel ban for certain opposition politicians are conditions that need to be addressed before coalition discussions can continue.

On Tuesday, delegates from the CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party met for the first of what is expected to be many coalition government talks. Poli­ticians at the meeting said the delegates agreed to meet again next Monday and postponed the opening for the National Assembly until next week. The Assembly is expected to conduct work while negotiations continue.

Another sticking point continues to be a controversial formula used to calculate Assembly seats, politicians said Wednesday.

The controversy started when election watchdogs were told they were using the wrong formula to calculate assembly seats. Opposi­tion groups and some political analysts said the “new” formula—which favors the party that won the most votes, the CPP—was adopted illegally.

Oum Sarith, an adviser to Chea Sim, said the opposition brought up the seat allocation formula in Tuesday’s negotiations.

“I don’t understand the stance of the opposition parties,” Oum Sarith said. “They were sworn in in Siem Reap, which shows that the opposition parties recognized the poll results.”

According to official results, the CPP won 64 of the 122 Assembly seats, Funcinpec won 43 the Sam Rainsy Party won 15.

(Additional reporting by Mhari Saito, Jeff Smith and Khuy Sok­hoeun)




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