Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni came under pressure Thursday from monks and civil society organizations to delay the opening session of the country’s parliament to give more time to the ruling and opposition parties for negotiations to end their election dispute.
A group of around 20 nongovernmental organizations said they would petition the King to hold off the Sept. 23 session of the National Assembly, or parliament, until the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) come to an agreement.
The two parties had met in recent days and appeared to be making progress on “narrowing their differences” in talks initiated by the King after the CNRP refused to accept official results naming the CPP the victor in July 28 polls and threatened to boycott parliament.
On Wednesday, Sihamoni ordered opposition lawmakers to attend the first post-election legislative meeting, pointing to a clause in the constitution that parliament must be convened within 60 days of the polls.
But past sessions have been convened more than two months after polls due to political disputes, and NGOs and monks on Thursday urged the King to reconsider his decision.
“Based on the current political situation, it is best that the assembly be delayed,” Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) Director Hang Puthea told RFA’s Khmer Service of the plan by the NGOs to petition the King.
“This is the best option in order to allow the parties to work together and agree” on issues in the future, he said.
Also on Thursday, police in Phnom Penh blocked about 200 monks from marching to the Royal Palace to call on the King to convene parliament only after the political deadlock is resolved.
The group of monks tried to hold a prayer for peace in front of the palace, but authorities said that they could not allow them to gather because the action would hold up traffic.
After encountering police roadblocks, the monks decided to sit in the street and hold the prayer session, chanting and throwing lotus petals in the air. No arrests were made.
The Associated Press quoted the gathering's organizer, But Buntenh, as insisting that the monks were not marching in support of the opposition but rather asking for “justice.”
“We would like our King to consider again,” he said of Sihamoni’s decision. “We hope our King will give us justice.”
The prayer session was held in defiance of a ban imposed by senior Buddhist authorities on monks participating in demonstrations or becoming involved in politics.
According to official results from Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC), which oversaw the July 28 election, the CNRP garnered 55 seats in parliament compared to 68 for Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
The CNRP, which says it should have won 63 of the country’s 123 parliamentary seats, has led weeks of mass demonstrations to back its calls for an independent probe on “widespread” election irregularities, including the removal of one million voters from the electoral rolls.
The government-appointed NEC, which oversees the country’s elections, and the Cambodian Constitutional Council (CCC), the nation’s highest court, have both said that all claims of poll irregularities have been investigated and rejected, making an independent probe unnecessary.
Tensions have been high in Phnom Penh since tens of thousands of supporters held three days of CNRP-led rallies in the capital, including one on Sunday that saw one protester shot dead and several wounded in a clash with police near the Kbal Thanal bridge.
On Tuesday, the last day of the rallies, a Buddhist monk tried to set himself on fire to protest alleged injustices in the elections but was stopped by the surrounding crowd after dousing himself with gasoline.
On Thursday, the dispute moved online with the government warning netizens not to insult Cambodia’s monarchy after it said users of Facebook had “expressed views abusing the King.”
Council of Ministers Secretary of State Phay Siphan said that the government statement aimed to remind the people about the King’s importance to Cambodia.
“The King is the country’s highest figure and represents peace and national unity,” he said.
The CNRP maintained Thursday that all 55 elected CNRP lawmakers will boycott next week’s National Assembly session despite the King’s invitation, citing the need for an independent probe into election irregularities.
“There is no solution and there is no justice for the voters yet,” party spokesman Yim Sovann said.
“We haven’t uncovered the truth yet, so we can’t betray the voters” by attending the parliamentary session, he said.
Yim Sovann added that party followers “across the country” would deliver petitions to the Royal Palace on Friday in support of the move and calling for a delay in the proceedings.
The CPP on Thursday issued a statement saying its 68 elected lawmakers will participate in Monday’s parliamentary meeting as scheduled.
“The CPP would like to express profound thanks to the King,” the statement read.
“We would like to announce that we will follow the King’s suggestion and will be ready to participate in the first assembly meeting.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.