In the late 1990s it looms as a most peculiar piece of visual propaganda. A large brass statue of Cambodian monarch King Norodom Sihanouk, standing in the Funcinpec party compound in Phnom Penh, was even crafted in North Korea. The king, utterly impassive, stands with palm raised to the people. In the half-light of a Mekong sunset, the statue could almost pass for Mao Zedong or Kim Il-sung. It was erected two weeks ago by his illegitimate son Prince Ranariddh as his Funcinpec party's election campaign hit its peak. Now the election is over and defeat likely, it stands unfinished on a concrete plinth, testimony to the blurring of royalty and politics in Southeast Asia's poorest country. Historians will struggle to find a country where the involvement is as direct as in Cambodia, its waters muddied by the king himself following his first abdication in 1955 to create a political party. This time the prince's campaign posters brazenly displayed an icon-like portrait surrounded by a stylised sunburst - an image that looked more like his father at the height of his powers in the 1960s. 'We do not offer gifts,' the prince told one rural audience, 'but we offer you the king.' He parades as a democrat, yet white-suited servants bring him drinks and cool towels on silver platters whenever he appears in public in the countryside. If he gets too hot, one will hold an umbrella over him while another gently works a fan. It was an appeal explained by his aunt, the king's half-sister Norodom Vacheara, as she campaigned for her nephew in Siem Reap, home of the royal retreat. 'I prayed for rain and it rained,' she said. 'People still believe that.' Yet through it all the king steadfastly claimed neutrality, telling voters to vote in secret and according only to their 'consciences'. So far, King Sihanouk has shown all the signs of backing Prince Ranariddh's bitter rival, Hun Sen, in any coalition deal, a view also understood to be held by his wife, Queen Monineath, whose relations with her husband's son have long been cool. That is, presumably, a problem for Prince Ranariddh that could take a little more than a few North Korean statues to solve.