PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian opposition politicians and Buddhist monks urged King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday to delay a new session of parliament after a disputed election win by long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Lawmakers from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) say Hun Sen cheated his way to a narrow victory in the July vote. They say they will refuse to attend parliament, due to convene on Monday by royal order, until an independent inquiry is held.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy said the king should delay parliament until further talks were held to end the political stalemate with Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has rejected an inquiry.
“The constitution states that the King is the symbol of national unity,” Sam Rainsy told a news briefing on Friday. “Now where is the national unity?”
About 100 Buddhist monks also meditated this week near the Royal Palace to encourage King Sihamoni to reconsider his decision.
Also protesting was Prince Sisowath Thomico, the king’s cousin and a senior CNRP member, who went on hunger strike on Friday in an attempt to break the political deadlock.
But the king, responding to a letter from CNRP lawmakers asking for the delay, replied that he would still preside over the opening session as constitutionally required within 60 days of the July 28 election.
King Sihamoni took the throne in 2004 after the abdication of his father Sihanouk, who was given a lavish state burial after his death last year. King Sihamoni does not enjoy his father’s semi-divine status among Cambodians.
Hun Sen, 61, has been in power for 28 years and has vowed to rule Cambodia into his seventies.
His party officially won the election with 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55, a greatly reduced majority that signalled widespread disenchantment with Hun Sen’s iron-fisted rule despite rapid economic growth of more than 7 percent a year.
The CPP has vowed to attend parliament alone, with Hun Sen earlier threatening to redistribute the opposition’s seats to his party in the event of a no-show.
The opposition’s call to the king to delay the opening of parliament is tantamount to defiance of the revered institution and social analyst Chea Vannath said the post-election crisis was a big test for the monarchy.
“It is the highest institution that can’t be challenged,” she said. “But now there are people challenging it.”
The CNRP says it was cheated out of 2.3 million votes that would have handed it victory.
Thousands of CNRP supporters rallied this week in a three-day protest in a park in the capital, Phnom Penh. One man was killed and several injured when police opened fire on stone-throwing protesters on Sunday.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Andrew R.C. Marshall