Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Cambodia's king favors referendum over backroom deal

AFP , Phnom Penh

Cambodia's King Norodom Si-hanouk has called for a referendum after refusing to sign a controversial bill to allow a government to be formed after a year-long political impasse.

The king, who lives in self-imposed exile in North Korea, said he would allow the acting head of state to sign, but the revered monarch's refusal to attach his own name is likely to jeopardize the new administration's mandate.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and royalist leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who agreed to form their third coalition after a year of tortuous negotiations, are unlikely to agree to the referendum demand.

They struck the coalition deal on June 30 in a move that angered the 81-year-old king -- traditionally a dealmaker during political wrangling -- as his own attempts at negotiation were snubbed following inconclusive elections last July.

"I cannot respond to this great and serious issue that is fracturing our nation. I will ask Chea Sim, acting head of state, to please sign or not sign the additional constitutional law, in accordance with his opinion," Sihanouk said in a message posted on his website.

"The king reigns but does not rule. Therefore, Parliament, which is the representative of the people, should organize a referendum to allow the people to decide this big issue."

Chea Sim, president of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, will be asked to sign the bill today, which will allow the Parliament to sit for its first working session in more than a year.

The bill allows Hun Sen and Ranariddh to be jointly elected as premier and national assembly president by a show of hands.

The king relented Saturday on his threat to abdicate over the feud. He first ascended the throne some 65 years ago.

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