PHNOM PENH - Top leaders from the ruling and opposition parties were on hand at Phnom Penh international airport Wednesday to welcome home King Norodom Sihamoni from a medical trip to Beijing. But neither side made use of the occasion for sideline talks over the country’s ongoing political crisis. In fact, neither side said much or anything to the other. Nor did they look at one another.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and his political rival, Sam Rainsy, who is head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, stood within 10 meters of each other as the king deplaned and greeted dignitaries who stood in line to welcome him home. But they chose not to speak to each other.
“We are here to welcome the king,” Sam Rainsy told reporters as he arrived at the airport.
The political crisis includes a looming three-day strike threatened by the Rescue Party, which has also said it will not agree to form a government without a proper investigation into widespread reports of irregularities and fraud in the July election. Talks between both sides over an investigation broke down earlier this month, and the opposition rallied 20,000 people to a peacefully demonstration on Saturday.
The National Election Committee—roundly criticized by the opposition as biased—announced Sunday an official win for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, a result the opposition has rejected.
The Rescue Party has threatened to boycott a Sept. 23 meeting at the National Assembly that would mark the formation of the post-election government. The CPP says it will form a government with or without the opposition’s attendance. The session must be held at the behest of the king, who can choose to postpone it. Now both sides, along with outside observers, are waiting to see what he’ll do, and how Cambodia’s latest political drama will play out.
“We expect that he will help by calling for a bilateral meeting between the CPP and the [Rescue Party], under his presence, to address questions surrounding the election,” said Prince Sisowath Thomico, who is a member of both the royal family and the opposition party. “He he wants to address [the problems], the only way to do so is to make a summons before the session.”
Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Wednesday that a summit of both parties will be necessary to resolve the deadlock.
“These things must be solved politically,” he said.
Phay Siphan, a member of the CPP and a government spokesman, said there is hope that the king could “intervene” in the crisis.
At the airport Wednesday, Sam Rainsy said all sides respect the king.
“We are waiting for his ideas, and we’ll consider them,” he said.