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Cambodia: Parliament opens, but election stand-off persists

Cambodia: Parliament opens, but election stand-off persists
Published 23 Sep 2013 

The elected members of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) made good their threat to boycott the opening of parliament today.

In doing so they continued to claim the results of the 28 July were rigged by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and had to be independently investigated. They also argued that the constitution required the presence of 120 members of parliament for the opening to take place; the CPP says parliament can sit so long as 63 members are present, and stands by its claim to 68 elected members.

Formally opening the parliament today, King Norodom Sihamoni urged the elected opposition party members to take their seats in the parliament: 'The Cambodian nation must stand united and show the highest national solidarity based on the implementation of the principles of democracy and rule of law that we have been practising since 1993.'

Predicting what will happen next is fraught with uncertainty, but a few points are worth making. Whatever the strength of the CNRP’s claims, Hun Sen and the CPP remain firmly in control of the forces of order, the judiciary and much of the civil service, and this situation is most unlikely to change.[fold]

Efforts by CNRP representatives to get King Sihamoni involved in finding a solution to the electoral standoff have not been productive. The king was ready to have a short meeting with Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy, the opposition leader who does not have a seat in parliament, but to no effect. Indeed, when the call for Sihamoni’s involvement was made, one of Sihamoni’s cousins and CNRP candidate, Prince Sisowath Thomico, questioned the wisdom of such actions. (More recently Prince Thomico held a short-lived hunger strike at Wat Phnom in protest against the fact that the parliament was going to meet, before being forced to leave by the military.)

The idea that Sihamoni would ever do more than play a strictly constitutional role is a reflection of the opposition’s hope winning out over reality. The days of Cambodian monarchs determining political developments have long gone and there is no indication that the newly politically conscious Cambodian electors want to return to them.

Much of what has happened since the election appears to reflect Sam Rainsy’s readiness to push matters to the outer limits of possibility, a tactic that has previously twice led to his having to exile himself from Cambodia.

He and his colleagues may be able to continue assembling protest rallies, but there are now suggestions of pro-CPP rallies being mounted in response. It’s possible that Hun Sen may be ready to find a formula that allows the CRNP to accept its position without too much loss of face, but there is no immediate sign of it.

Meanwhile, China has made clear it is firmly behind Hun Sen and the CPP government, a fact that makes any suggestion the UN might be involved in investigating the elections highly unlikely.

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