PHNOM PENH - Mourners of former king Norodom Sihanouk say they want to see the resumption of the late king’s once popular National Congress, a public forum where people could voice their grievances and raise problems for the state authority to solve.
While the body of the former kings lies in state inside the Royal Palace following his death earlier this month, many of his subjects still remember the congress, one of him best-known legacies.
Bun Ravy, a medical trainer of midwifery in Phnom Penh, said the congress allowed people to raise their problems in public for the authorities to solve.
“That was the best thing to do, because nothing could be hidden, as people dared to speak out,” she told VOA Khmer. “In my view, that leadership was something the next generation of leaders should pay attention to.”
Sihanouk gained much of his popularity from the people, allowing them to voice their grievances and having relevant government officials respond to the National Congress, which he chaired every six months.
Pouch Kri attended a congress as a worker at a state factory during the 1960s. The 74-year-old retiree said a return of the public forum would do the country good today.
“Whenever it exists, and the leaders solve [people’s problems], that would be terrific, because the people would feel relieved, whether they are wrong or right,” he said.
Cambodia’s 1993 constitution initially had provisions for a National Congress, calling for it to meet once a year to help people raise their issues to the authorities. The idea has since been amended out of the constitution, and no congress has been held under the regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said a National Congress “is not necessary” anymore. “We have multiple party conventions, not just a single party like that in the Sangkum Reas Niyum regime,” he said, referring to Sihanouk’s pre-war government. “In the previous regime, the former king also stood as a judge, but the current king does not.”
Supporters of the old regime, however, say the National Congress could be a reminder to the country’s leaders to serve the people.
“It would be good for our country to have that congress, so that politicians wouldn’t forget what their supposed to do,” said Nun Lux, a supporter of the king. Cambodians from all political camps should now come together to serve the national interest and remember Sihnouk’s legacy, he said.