King Norodom Sihamoni used a speech during celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of Cambodia’s independence from France on Saturday to call for unity amid growing concerns over the long-term harmony of the nation since July’s disputed national election.
Government officials, military officers and foreign diplomats turned out to a ceremony, which opened at Independence Monument at 7 a.m. and closed two hours later at the Royal Palace, to commemorate then-King Norodom Sihanouk’s 1953 declaration of independence from French colonial control.
Speaking at the ceremony’s close from a gallery raised in front of the palace, King Sihamoni appealed to all Cambodians to remember the national unity and peace he said his father had spent his life fighting for.
“On this occasion, I would like to call for the Cambodian people to be united under the umbrella of constitutional and state law in a bid to defend and build the country in all kinds of fields,” the King said.
He added that Cambodia’s peace and development since the end of the civil war in the early 1990s has been based on solidarity among Cambodians and a desire to work together when faced with problems.
“It’s based on unity, on an environment of peace and political stability that aims to develop all sectors—especially the economic sector, which is the breath of our nation,” King Sihamoni said.
“The huge achievements that we have had success with have come from peaceful cultural struggle, national unity, the promotion of democracy, the respect for rights and for people’s dignity,” he added.
The country has been locked in a political impasse since the ruling CPP’s 68 elected lawmakers convened the National Assembly in September and formed a new government in the absence of the opposition CNRP, which is boycotting parliament on the grounds that results from the election were fraudulent.
The CNRP has vowed to continue demonstrating until the CPP government agrees to an independent investigation of the ballot or to a host of political reforms, including reform of the National Election Committee.
Speaking prior to King Sihamoni’s closing speech Saturday, Prime Minister Hun Sen made clear that his one-party government would remember King Sihanouk’s legacy.
Dressed in formal white military attire and in front of hundreds of soldiers standing in formation to commemorate 60 years of Cambodia’s armed forces, Mr. Hun Sen spoke from the front of the royal park facing toward the royal delegation and a smiling King Sihamoni.
“The fifth mandate of the Royal Government of Cambodia—which has just recently been born through a free, fair and accurate ballot of the Cambodian people’s views on July 28, 2013—is committed to continue King Father [Sihanouk]’s achievements through further development by conducting deep reforms,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“We will never forget the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who sacrificed greatly his physical and mental health for the cause of independence, territorial integrity, happiness and development for society.”
The day had opened at the Independence Monument, where a congregation of foreign diplomats, students and CPP lawmakers and leaders waited for the King to arrive and set the victory torch alight.
Just before 7:30 a.m., the King entered Independence Monument, followed by Mr. Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, to light the torch, which is set to continue burning until today.
Senate President Chea Sim was absent from the celebrations, with Senate Vice President and CPP Secretary-General Say Chhum attending in his place.