King Norodom Sihamoni, the King of Cambodia since 2004, has addressed the Senate this week for the first time since the ruling party won all the available seats in a recent controversial election. He urged the members of the Senate to protect justice and human rights, as currently the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party now have 58 of the 62 seats in the upper house. The King reminded the new lawmakers of their duty to protect basic constitutional rights and democracy, as well as the freedom and interests of all people.
Whilst most eyes of the world when looking at that area have been looking at North and South Korea, the situation in Cambodia has also caused concerns. Prior to the elections, the Prime Minister sought through the Supreme Court to have the main opposition party, Cambodian National Rescue Party dissolved, and more than 5,000 opposition councillors and lawmakers were barred from voting. The former leader of the party Sam Rainsy expressed concern that the country is returning to a one-party state from exile in Paris.
The King himself is not a stranger to political exile; born in 1953, the son of the former King Norodom Sihanouk and was sent by his father to Prague aged nine and spent most of his life either in Prague or France, including serving as the Cambodian Cultural Ambassador to UNESCO. He has a good reputation in the arts having trained as a ballet instructor and also spent time as President of the Khmer Dance Association.
Sadly, one of his trips to Cambodia, in 1977 coincided with the Khmer-Rouge government turning against the monarchy, and he and his family spent two years under house-arrest until an invasion by Vietnam. The King assumed the throne on the abdication of his father, following the decision of a throne council. But with the current situation which has not only caused major concerns with rights groups and opposition leaders at home but also abroad as both the United States and the European Community looking to scale back financial support the King must be concerned about history repeating itself.