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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Coalition 'close' claims Kanharith

Coalition 'close' claims Kanharith

coalition.jpg
coalition.jpg

CAMBODIAN People's Party (CPP) spokesman Khieu Kanharith has indicated that the country's

political stalemate may soon be over, and said that a "coalition deal is closer

than anybody expects".

With the formation of a new government in limbo, crack troops were on alert for anarchic miscreants, troublemakers, poseurs or whingers who, at press time, had failed to materialize.

That claim is despite the fact that the leaders of both the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP)

and Funcinpec have continued to push for a tripartite government-minus Prime Minister

Hun Sen-under the rubric of the so-called 'Alliance of Democrats' formed between

their parties on August 4.

Kanharith said the CPP had prepared a low-profile team during the election campaign

to engage in post election coalition discussions.

He said unofficial meetings between officials from the CPP, Funcinpec and the SRP

had been held several times to discuss the issue of power sharing in order to break

the present political deadlock.

But he declined to say precisely when the deal was likely to be completed, or which

personalities were involved in the negotiations.

One source told the Post that Ranariddh advisor Sun Chantol was negotiating for the

prince, and had met with Sok An on at least one occasion since the election.

However co-Defense Minister Prince Sisowath Sirirath, while refusing to respond directly

to Kanharith's statement, said it would be impossible for Funcinpec to enter a deal

without the SRP.

"We cannot survive as a single party. We can only survive as an alliance,"

he said, adding that only Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy could make any "concrete

decision" about a coalition.

One political observer, who asked not to be named, described Kanharith's claim as

"spin doctoring" and said all three parties were "playing to the gallery

simply as a negotiating tactic".

"The CPP's objective is very clear: a coalition with one partner, preferably

Funcinpec, and Hun Sen as Prime Minister," the observer said. And while some

talks were probably going on behind closed doors, the progress toward establishing

a new government was probably "neither nearer nor farther".

But the CPP remains confident that it is dealing from a position of strength.

Nhim Vanda, a member of the CPP's Central Committee told the Post on August 12 that

there were several options being discussed on the formation of a new government,

but that the tripartite proposal was not among them.

A reliable CPP source said that the SRP would not win a place in government.

"I think that the CPP still wants to work with Funcinpec, because the CPP needs

to save the face of King Norodom Sihanouk," said the CPP official on condition

of anonymity. "I think that one party must be again in opposition."

And displaying the huge confidence of the ruling party, Vanda said that whether or

not the other parties joined the new government, both Funcinpec and SRP would lose

more votes in 2008. He predicted that neither would be in any position to carry out

their campaign promises or solve the problems faced by their voters.

The CPP source said that if Funcinpec agreed to be a coalition partner, then it would

retain eight ministries, down from the twelve ministries and two co-ministries that

the party holds in the current government. Funcinpec and the SRP would each receive

the chairmanship of one of the National Assembly's commissions, while the CPP would

retain the remaining seven.

Kanharith said that even without a coalition deal, the government could legally continue.

Under the Constitution, parliament has 60 days to vote in a new government, but Kanharith

claimed a "loophole" meant that if a new government wasn't sworn in, the

current government would still be legal.

And the predicted conflict between the current coalition partners over a scheduled

cabinet meeting is expected to be avoided.

Funcinpec ministers will send delegates to the cabinet meeting scheduled for today,

August 15, in an attempt to avoid a confrontation with Hun Sen.

Hun Sen, who will chair the meeting, had warned Funcinpec ministers they would be

stripped of their positions if they did not attend the cabinet meeting which was

postponed from August 8.

But Funcinpec ministers and secretaries of state have notified the Council of Ministers

that they are "busy" and will each send a delegate in their place.

Health Minister Hong Sun Huot said there was no Funcinpec boycott of the meeting,

and told the Post he would send CPP secretary of state Mam Bun Heng in his place.

Kanharith said that would be acceptable to the Prime Minister, and would not lead

to the sacking of Sun Huot or other officials who did likewise.

The compromise will buy more time for a coalition deal to be struck. The CPP has

made it clear that that deal will be on the basis of the results as handed down by

the National Election Committee (NEC).

In a statement released to coincide with the announcement of provisional results

on August 8, Chea Sim, the President of the Senate and CPP Chairman, warned that

any attempt to overturn the result of the election would be unconstitutional, against

democracy and against the will of the Cambodian people.

"[The CPP] absolutely supports the result of national elections ... and is determined

to protect the results which flowed from the will of Cambodian people," Sim

said.

The SRP and Funcinpec have rejected the results of the election in which the CPP

won more seats than the two other parties combined. Sam Rainsy and Ranariddh intend

to drum up international support for their position first in Thailand and then in

Europe and the US.

But Rainsy and his wife, legislator Tioulong Saumura, were denied entry to Thailand

on the evening of August 13 and flew directly to Paris.

The pair had been set to attend a conference in Bangkok and had also scheduled a

press conference, but were turned away at the airport by Thai authorities on the

direct orders of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, The Nation reported.

Several top Funcinpec officials were also in Bangkok including Ranariddh who was

reportedly seeking a meeting with diplomats because of a perceived pro-CPP bias among

Phnom Penh's diplomatic corps.

A Phnom Penh based diplomat described that claim as "strange".

"Most of the ambassadors had independent monitors in the country and that's

what their assessments of the election are based on," he said, adding that "ambassadors

based in Bangkok hardly ever come to Phnom Penh".

And King Norodom Sihanouk, who entered the debate as a "humble Khmer citizen"

to suggest that Hun Sen lead the new government, apologized again on August 14 for

his comment.

"I do not know what came over me this month of August 2003," he wrote in

a statement on his website.

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