FROM 1ST PM TO FOOTNOTE
Ung Huot may feature as one of those tough questions in a Cambodian version of the game Trivial Pursuit: "Who was the First Prime Minister for 12 months starting in August 1997?"
WHAT a difference a year makes.
On Aug 6, 1997, Funcinpec Foreign Minister Ung Huot became Cambodia's new First Prime
Minister. On Aug 3, 1998, he wasn't even an MP following the complete rout of his
Reastr Niyum party in the elections.
"I think we accept the realities - we are not in the National Assembly,"
he said, twirling in his chair and smiling gamely during a press conference at his
"That's what democracy is all about. It's not what you do, it's what the people
decide." Many expected that his party's aggressive campaign would net a few
seats. Huot himself thought 50.
"I think it's one of the best campaigns we ever saw in Cambodia," he said.
But voters avoided the Reastr Niyum box in droves, despite Huot posters on seemingly
every third tree and telephone pole.
In Kampong Cham he only got 2,546 of 721,241 votes. It was fewer than the little-known
National Solidarity and Save Cambodia Women parties. Despite promises of more public
toilets and a get-incredibly-tough stance on crime (he advocated giving one public
warning to suspected criminals then shooting them), Huot got less than 1% of the
Many wondered what the former Funcinpec member stood for. After last year's coup
he turned down First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh's appeal to go into
exile. He was instead picked by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen as Ranariddh's replacement.
Huot formed the ultimately disasterous Reastr Niyum with other Funcinpec defectors.
He lay so low after the polls that he had to deny rumors at his press conference
that he had left the country. A couple of days before an aide said: "It seems
that he doesn't want to talk to anyone. He just keeps himself inside the house all
It was a change from his jubilant prediction after his nomination: "Me and Hun
Sen will be perfect. There will be no violence, we will run the country fairly and
Today, two members of his party are dead in possible political killings and the party
has filed a complaint with the NEC about pre-election intimidation, lack of transparency
and counting irregularities, and asked for recounts.
The future of Reastr Niyum - and of soon-to-be-former First Prime Minister - is unclear.
"Our party will stay," he said. "We will look at our shortfall, our
strengths and weaknesses, and rethink our future."
Meanwhile, Son Sann Party leader Son Soubert is packing up his office as Assembly
second vice president. His party - a faction of one of the four major signatories
to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords - won't have one seat in the 1998-2003 parliament
He looked back at the "hopes and enthusiasm" of the first National Assembly
in 1993, shook his head at the joke it quickly became, and said he's not at all sad
"We hoped the National Assembly would have given us national reconciliation.
The CPP were really ready to compromise... and help tackle Cambodia's problems."
For the next hour he ticked through the woes that followed. His own party, the Buddhist
Liberal Democratic Party, split apart in 1995. One of its MPs committed suicide in
his parliamentary office the same year, unable to bear what his work had become.
Ranariddh abetted Hun Sen, then consistently bowed to him and eventually broke. The
Assembly was constantly stymied by a lack of quorum and partisan bills were pushed
His biggest regret is that parliament never solved the problem of land disputes.
"There was no majority will to solve this... now things remain the same,"
"We weren't lawyers. We weren't jurists. We had international advisers and they
helped... But the final thing that confirmed for me that the National Assembly was
just a puppet was when we could not revise the laws of procedure. It was always so
difficult to make the Assembly work," he said.
Decent bills - the declaration of revenue law and an anti-corruption law - were lost.
Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Sirivudh were lost to Funcinpec, the only party with
the strength on paper to match CPP's.
"Ranariddh was told of CPP's plan but he never believed it," Soubert said.
"The values of our country are upside down. You talk about honesty and integrity?
People here think you're crazy... they think you can't be intelligent enough to earn
[corrupt] money" the way other politicians do.
And the future? "I was just [recently] talking to [UN special representative
Lakhan] Mehrotra. He is really optimistic. I'm not. The Assembly will continue to
be a rubber stamp because the CPP will dictate... The CPP is the state.
"All the dreams of rule of law are gone... corruption will continue to plague
Cambodia," he said, continuing the litany: drug trafficking, smuggling, neighboring
"I don't feel sad to leave," he repeats, "because in my conscience
I fulfilled all I could do. I just regret I could not do more."
Other losers include National Assembly First Vice President Loy Sim Chheang's Sangkum
Thmei party, Information Minister Ieng Mouly's Buddhist Liberal Party, and Siem Reap
Governor Toan Chay's National Union Party.