FORMER Khmer Rouge commanders of the Democratic National United Movement (DNUM) say
they will not field candidates in elections scheduled for 1998, but that individual
former rebels may run for National Assembly seats.
DNUM leaders said they will remain neutral in an effort to avoid campaign violence
spreading into their zones.
But the decision not to field their own candidates means political jockeying for
votes from the area is likely to intensify, as parties from outside the region fight
over what could become crucial seats in a close election.
With an estimated 20,000-25,000 potential voters in the zone, Ministry of Interior
officials say the number of National Assembly seats could be increased to allow parliamentary
representation for the former KR.
"The Constitution clearly allows for the number of National Assembly seats to
be increased according to the size of the population," said Ministry of Interior
director-general of administration Prum Sokha.
But "so far no decision has been taken about whether extra seats will be
added to cover the former KR zone," he said.
While DNUM leaders claim they will remain on the sidelines in the electoral campaign,
one official said they are prepared to use military force after the election if the
losing party refuses to relinquish power.
Western observers estimate there are around 5,000 men under arms, including roughly
600 police, in DNUM areas.
DNUM secretary general Long Narin, said candidates from all political parties will
be welcome to campaign in the former KR heartlands, and that the Pailin and Phnom
Malai hierarchy intend to support candidates who stand on a "national reconciliation"
Individuals within DNUM, the breakaway rebel movement headed by Ieng Sary may, however,
stand as "independent candidates in zones under their control," Narin said.
Said Sary in an interview: "It's up to the national election law. We will observe
the law - if it allows individuals to stand, we may support certain individuals."
The movement has not identified who might stand as independent candidates, but a
recent DNUM Bulletin, P'kaa Riik, (the Blossoming Flower), reported that DNUM popularity
"In the present situation when different political opinions have exploded in
some areas into military standoffs, both national and international opinion grows
higher and higher for DNUM, led by Ieng Sary," reported the Bulletin, which
is edited by Suong Sikoeun, Sary's spokesman.
"[DNUM] takes a middle stand between the alliances of political parties,"
added the Bulletin, which portrays Sary as being an exemplary leader from "a
Former rebel commanders, all keen Phnom Penh watchers, said they don't want DNUM
to suffer the same fate as Funcinpec, which they say won power at the polling booths
in 1993, but was unable to assume control.
"We will not be running in 1998 elections because we are not ready for political
power...if we win, we will have no political power in Phnom Penh...we don't want
to be like Funcinpec," Narin said.
Also behind the apparent decision not to run in 1998 is a fear that ex-KR electoral
successes may be regarded, by the international community, as a grab for power.
Nou Sarin, cabinet chief of Pailin strongman Ee Chhean, said: "Ee Chhean has
said he will not stand in 1997 or 1998 elections because some foreign countries will
say the Khmer Rouge wants to take power in the government....for now he must stay
While distancing themselves from direct involvement in 1998 elections, DNUM commanders
say they are gearing up to face future polls.
"Afterwards, if Cambodians see that [DNUM's] national reconciliation policy
is the good way, Ee Chhean will participate [in elections]," Sarin added. "Then
he will fare well or badly according to how Cambodian people view him".
"It is not the right moment to enter politics," added Sok Pheap, military
chief of Phnom Malai.
Overtures from the two major parties, CPP and Funcinpec, which DNUM leaders said
have included offers of roads, rice, weapons and military ranks, are publicly at
least getting a guarded response in Pailin and Phnom Malai.
Leaders claim in order to prevent a continuation of the war, they will not openly
favor either CPP or Funcinpec candidates, regardless of the pay offs.
"Even if they offer an airplane, if I don't like the party I won't join them,"
said Sok Pheap, who denied that he recently joined Funcinpec's National Council.
The Khmer Nation Party is the latest to enter the fray, with Sam Rainsy testing the
waters in Pailin and Phnom Malai during the Dhammayietra peace walk in late March.
Rainsy received a friendly but cautious response from Pailin officials in a late
night meeting Mar 26.
"I asked if I could open a political office here and they said that they would
consult their leadership committee," said Rainsy.
Sok Pheap in Malai was more positive about Rainsy opening party offices.
"If he comes here under government law and for peace and national reconciliation,
yes...if he comes to make trouble with guns and war, no... but as long as he informs
me it is OK," he said.
While neutrality appears to reign and the door is technically open for legal political
parties to begin campaigning, DNUM officials say they will use their military muscle
if any party refuses to respect the results in upcoming elections.
"Our peaceful goals do not mean we are happy to stand and watch the conflicts
between political alliances as a mere referee." the P'kaa Riik Bulletin says.
"People who win or lose elections do not respect the law...I am afraid [in 1998],
the loser might not step away from power," said Sok Pheap.
"After the election, if Funcinpec wins we agree to support Funcinpec but if
CPP wins we have to support the CPP," added Sou Narin in Pailin.
"We are not sure how people will vote here but if Funcinpec wins and the CPP
doesn't let them in we will use military force to support the victor," said
Narin, who said he spoke on behalf of Ee Chhean.