Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Tuesday he refused to believe King Norodom Sihamoni had officially announced the date he will open the National Assembly later this month, despite the King having signed a letter announcing he would convene the inaugural session on September 23.
Speaking to reporters after visiting Phnom Penh’s O’Russei market to meet with vendors and supporters, Mr. Rainsy said the letter released by the National Election Committee (NEC) was merely correspondence between the King and NEC President Im Suosdey and did not constitute the announcement of the first sitting of the National Assembly.
“I don’t believe that it’s the King’s letter to convene lawmakers,” he said, explaining that if King Sihamoni wanted to announce the first sitting, he would not do so through the NEC.
“The King has not convened [the National Assembly]. If he were to convene it, he would write a letter to lawmakers—he wouldn’t write through a thief like Im Suosdey,” he said.
Still, Mr. Rainsy said that if the King directly asked opposition lawmakers to take their seats, the CNRP would consider it, a change from its long-standing pledge to boycott the opening of the National Assembly if allegations of election irregularities are not properly investigated.
Speaking after his trip to O’Russei, Mr. Rainsy reiterated that King Sihamoni’s letter on Monday “does not commit” to any date and that the King had to personally write to elected lawmakers to make an official announcement of Parliament’s opening.
“If we get a direct letter, we could consider sitting…this would be a question [to consider]. But based on this letter to Im Suosdey—this letter that is not for us—we cannot make any decisions,” he said.
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said that it was unlikely that even formal letters from the King inviting the opposition’s lawmakers to take their seats would change the party’s decision to boycott the opening of the Assembly.
“We have already sent a letter to the King on the 8th of September informing him that the question of irregularities be dealt with properly before we can sit,” he said.
“The party has to discuss everything, including a letter from the King requesting [our attendance], but our feeling, I think, is that we will not attend the session. We will find a way to explain to the King our reasons as our respect for him,” he said.
Mr. Suosdey declined to comment on the King’s letter, saying he had simply received it and that any questions of its significance were outside of his competence.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan rejected Mr. Rainsy’s claims that the September 23 date stipulated by the King in his letter was not official.
“He sent a Royal letter to the NEC, and it means that the King is available on that date, so it is decided by the King already,” he said. “It’s part of the electoral process.”
“At the end of the process, the NEC writes a letter to the King [to tell him the results] and he writes back. The letter the King sends back is an official letter.”
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, agreed with Mr. Rainsy’s assessment and said that King Sihamoni may still decide not to convene the first meeting of the National Assembly if the CNRP carries through with its boycott plans.
“He is just answering the NEC president to inform him that he intends to call the meeting of the National Assembly,” Mr. Panha said.
“The King mentioned also the 123 lawmakers [in his letter], so he intends to have all of them in attendance, and this is the condition of the meeting,” he said.
The Constitution requires the King, who is returning today from a medical checkup in Beijing, to convene the first session of the National Assembly within 60 days of a national election.
Still, between the 1998 election and the formation of the National Assembly, 128 days passed, while 355 days passed in 2003 and exactly 60 days passed after the 2008 election.
After the 1993 national election—which took place before the adoption of the Constitution—119 days passed before the formation of the first National Assembly.
Mr. Rainsy arrived at O’Russei market shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday to meet with vendors and promote the opposition’s plans to host a three-day mass demonstration in Freedom Park to demand an independent investigation into alleged electoral irregularities.
CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua warmed up the crowd before Mr. Rainsy’s arrival and promoted the demonstration.
“Please all of you, join with us and go to the demonstration on Sunday, and we will tell King Sihamoni what the people want,” she said.
“We have to get 63 seats—yes or no?” she asked, referring to the CNRP’s repeated claim it in fact won a majority 63 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly.
“Yes, we demand 63 seats!” she said.