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Cambodia: King Refuses to Convene Parliament - 2003-09-18

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has personally petitioned King Norodom Sihanouk to open the country's newly-elected National Assembly. The king is refusing to attend because opposition parties are boycotting the session to protest July's election results.

Prime Minister Hun Sen met with King Sihanouk Wednesday night to urge him to reconsider his decision not to attend the opening session of the National Assembly - elected in July.

Cambodia's Constitution requires that the king convene parliament within 60 days of the general election. The deadline is September 26. But the king Tuesday announced he would not preside at the opening after the Sam Rainsy Party said it would boycott the session because of vote counting irregularities in the general elections.

Wednesday, the royalist Funcinpec Party joined the opposition boycott to push for a vote recount and have election complaints addressed.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won a majority of the 123 seats in the assembly, but fell short of the two-thirds needed to form a government. Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy parties are refusing to join a coalition unless the prime minister resigns.

Senior government minister Sok An accused the two parties of obstructing democracy. "According to my understanding, the constitution states that the first meeting of the National Assembly will take place no longer than 60 days after the election and presided over by the king," he says. "So we cannot do anything to violate this because this is the spirit of the constitution. I think that if not everyone respects the constitution, then how can we talk about democracy?"

King Sihanouk - a figure of national reconciliation in Cambodia - says all parties must attend the opening of the National Assembly in order for him to preside.

A similar deadlock occurred after the 1998 elections - but was resolved so parliament could open on time.