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
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
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
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,"
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
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
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.