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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Assembly rejects reshuffle as F'pec flounders

Assembly rejects reshuffle as F'pec flounders

I N a rare display of recalcitrance, Cambodia's National Assembly rejected the government's

proposed cabinet reshuffle Sept 16, a result which parliamentarians and observers

said was less a vote for democracy and more indicative of ongoing divisions within

Funcinpec.

The reshuffle proposal - of seven ministerial and nine secretary of state posts -

would have replaced self-exiled government officials loyal to ousted Prince Norodom

Ranariddh with officials largely drawn from Toan Chay's Funcinpec faction and Ieng

Mouly's BLDP faction.

The reshuffle, which some MPs described as a "reward" for supporters of

Hun Sen's ouster of Ranariddh, failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority of

parliament when 30 MPs abstained, voted against or spoiled their ballots. Sixty-seven

MPs voted in favour of the reshuffle.

Speaking outside parliament after the vote, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed

the result as a victory for democracy. "This shows that the Cambodian National

Assembly is a democratic one, filled with sovereignty and without intimidation or

fear," he said.

The Second Prime Minister said the parliament's show of opposition confirmed that

the August vote replacing First Prime Minister Ranariddh with Ung Huot had also been

conducted democratically.

Hun Sen said that the reshuffle proposal would be again be put before MPs - who would

this time vote on each appointment on an individual basis - after he returned from

visiting the UN in New York.

"Among ten people, if they are dissatisfied with one person, all the people

fail to get the vote," said Hun Sen, explaining why he believed the reshuffle

package had been rejected the first time.

But local observers and some MPs dismissed Hun Sen's claim of democracy, saying many

MPs were still too afraid to express their opinions.

"It's a strategy to make the world believe that he's not a dictator and that

democracy still works in Cambodia," said one analyst. "So there are one

or two opposition MPs to show we have democracy, but democracy without freedom is

a farce."

Funcinpec MPs who voted against the proposed reshuffle appeared fearful, saying that

they were under regular surveillance and claimed there would be "pressure"

to pass the next vote.

"There is no opposition at all. If it was an open vote I would raise my hand

to say 'Yes' too," said one Funcinpec MP.

Another Funcinpec official, nominated for a post, cited basic procedural errors in

the proposal due to the Hun Sen and Ung Huot's rush to get it through the assembly.

"The two PMs tried to move in a hurry before the UN meeting but it backfired,"

said the official.

The source said that originally the entire government cabinet had been put on the

proposal. Had the error not been rectified, the Assembly's rejection of the proposal

would have amounted to a vote of no confidence in the government.

BLDP parliamentarian Thach Reng, who spoke against the proposed changes during the

Sept16 assembly session, maintained that the result was a landmark expression of

the assembly's power.

"Before, those who held executive power looked down on the National Assembly.

They thought the National Assembly was an easy institution.

"It's a good sign for the future. Hun Sen has to dissolve the National Assembly

or conform to the authority of the National Assembly and make concessions,"

he said.

Reng said that he had received messages of support from other MPs who agreed with

his position but were too "scared" to voice their opposition.

The opposition MP acknowledged that his stand was difficult to maintain in the current

climate and that he could be accused of unintentionally adding credence to Hun Sen's

claims for democracy.

"The Bangkok people might be upset with me and say that Hun Sen is using me

as a pretext," said Reng, referring to Funcinpec politicians who remain outside

Cambodia.

Other MPs and analysts were less optimistic than Reng about the significance of the

vote, saying that the Assembly's rejection of the government reshuffle revealed the

extent of disunity within Funcinpec ranks.

According to Funcinpec sources, a meeting to organize the reshuffle candidates between

Funcinpec faction leaders Nady Tan and Toan Chay had ended with little agreement.

As well, support for the deal from Funcinpec MPs had not been secured before the

reshuffle was put to a vote in the Assembly.

"There was no consensus among the so-called Funcinpec leaders. Nady Tan met

with Toan Chay but there was no real consensus, they didn't talk at all.

"Three people made the proposal - Ung Huot, Nady Tan and Toan Chay. Loy Sim

Chheang wasn't consulted. Others weren't consulted, there was no consensus among

remaining members," said one Funcinpec source.

Dissension in Funcinpec ranks continued into the Toan Chay faction, according to

the source, who claimed that there had been a "big fight" over the government

positions among Funcinpec members loyal to the Siem Reap governor. "Ros Hean

was not happy," the source said.

Funcinpec MP Ros Hean, who broke from Ranariddh loyalists in April to join the Toan

Chay renegade faction, had been touted as a contender for a government post in the

lead-up to the reshuffle vote.

Hean declined to discuss his aspirations for a cabinet position but said the reshuffle

had been rejected because "the arrangement was not fair".

"There is not enough talk in the party. We need democracy in the party. When

there is democracy in the party, there is democracy in the government," said

Hean.

Other Funcinpec MPs laid the blame with Toan Chay, saying the outspoken Siem Reap

governor was "collaborating" with Hun Sen to the detriment of Funcinpec.

MPs loyal to Funcinpec dean Nady Tan said that faction members were looking for ways

to establish a new party if divisions within the party continued.

"They [Funcinpec MPs loyal to Nady Tan] will leave Funcinpec to Toan Chay and

find a new name. It's a plan in case Nady Tan can't compromise with Toan Chay,"

said one MP.

Local analysts said that Funcinpec was now facing a "leadership crisis"

given the parlous state of party solidarity and that the Assembly decision indicated

the degree of "disintegration" within the party.

"What is Hun Sen losing out of this [National Assembly] rejection? He's losing

nothing. Funcinpec are losing.

"They don't seem to have any ideas on how to consolidate the party. They don't

toe the party line ...there's no line to toe," said one observer.

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