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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec defies PM's demands

Funcinpec defies PM's demands

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funcinpec.jpg

July 29: Sam Rainsy, left, and Funcinpec's Norodom Sirivudh reject the CPP's election figures.

PRINCE Norodom Sirivudh has said Funcinpec's ministers will defy the demand of Prime

Minister Hun Sen by refusing to attend the August 8 Cabinet meeting.

The comments made by Sirivudh, who is the royalist party's secretary-general, were

in response to demands made by Hun Sen on July 31.

The Prime Minister threw down the gauntlet to those within Funcinpec who have spoken

out against a renewed coalition between the royalists and the Cambodian People's

Party (CPP) in the wake of the CPP's election success.

"On Friday [August 8] I will call a cabinet meeting and I know there will be

signatures on the white paper to leave the government," Hun Sen said outside

the office of the Council of Ministers (CoM).

"I've ordered this examined within all the government's institutions and ordered

them to make a list to transfer those jobs to acting ministers."

The "signatures on white paper" refers to an apparent plan by Funcinpec

ministers and secretaries of state to resign en masse from the government. But Sirivudh

said that that was just a "possible next step".

"The first step is just to be absent next Friday," he told the Post on

July 31.

Hun Sen has left Funcinpec with a stern warning to consider.

"I will confiscate cars and other material belonging to the government and order

the Ministry of Finance to suspend all the salaries [of ministers who do not attend

Cabinet]," Hun Sen said.

His comments followed others on July 30 that indicated a government must be formed

within 60 days. He also threatened force against any political group which had the

intention to establish a "temporary government".

"I would like to warn from now, there is no temporary government in Cambodia.

If you enter in this way, it is to commit suicide," he said. "In 1998 I

told the King that I have to use the armed forces against any intention to set up

temporary government in order to defend the Constitution.

"The Constitution states that the present government is still valid until the

new government is sworn in. Don't be confused: if the new government cannot be established,

I am still in power. I confirm now, if we can't establish a new government in 2003

then I will wait for 2004," he said.

Hun Sen's comments came after the CPP won the highest number of seats in the National

Assembly. Despite running second and third in the election, the opposition Sam Rainsy

Party (SRP) and Funcinpec have proposed variations on a three-way coalition that

would sideline the Prime Minister.

On July 31, Sam Rainsy claimed to be seeking a meeting with CPP Chairman Chea Sim

to discuss his proposal for government. Rainsy has suggested that Chea Sim become

prime minister, Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh take the Senate presidency,

and Hun Sen be shifted to head the National Assembly.

The proposal was warmly received by Sirivudh, who described it as possibly "the

best solution". But Hun Sen has already poured scorn on the notion that he would

give up the top job, or allow a three-party coalition to be formed.

"Hun Sen will not step down from power, because the people voted for the CPP

and support me as Prime Minister," he said in the July 30 speech. "Don't

accuse me of loving power, because the people gave it to me.

"I saw many requests to establish the coalition government formed by the tri-political

party but without Hun Sen. I would like to confirm that I need the coalition government

formed by two political parties. Any political party loyal to the CPP could be the

partner, but I don't know which one," he said.

Political analysts feel a coalition with the SRP is extremely unlikely.

"The difference between the CPP and SRP is very deep," said one analyst

who asked not to be named. "It goes to the issues, the mentality and the platform."

But even if Funcinpec does not re-enter the coalition there are other possibilities

to break the political impasse. Political commentator Dr Lao Mong Hay said it would

be possible to form a government without necessarily forming a coalition.

"I can envision different formulas," he said. "The ruling party can

form a 'minority government' in the sense that our Constitution defines it. The other

parties could approve that subject to the minority government fulfilling certain

obligations."

In that scenario the National Assembly would vote to give the CPP the necessary approval

to form a government, but would not take any positions in it. However Hun Sen has

warned Funcinpec that its members would become irrelevant if they did not join.

"I am not a person to interfere with the other party," he said on July

31. "But if the party which is in the coalition now becomes the opposition,

then I can say they commit suicide. Ministers, secretaries of state, governors and

deputy governors-where will they go? They will become a weaker opposition than the

current one."

The unnamed analyst agreed, and said that leaving the coalition would not appeal

to many senior Funcinpec figures.

"If they join with the SRP they get nothing: no money, no status, no position.

This group would view it as better to join with the CPP and make enough money in

the next five years to withdraw from the political sphere quietly," he said.

However he felt that the attempt to form a coalition against Hun Sen probably disturbed

the Prime Minister. He said Hun Sen had resorted to the threat of force because pressure

from the other parties pushing him to resign had alarmed him.

"I think he's probably hurt and worried that some part of the CPP might use

that against him," he said.

Speaking during a joint press conference with Sirivudh on July 29, Rainsy confidently

predicted that the informal liaison between the SRP and Funcinpec could withstand

pressure from Hun Sen.

"The situation now is much different to 1998," he said of the last time

the two parties banded together against the CPP. "The democratic forces are

much more determined to bring about change in Cambodia. This is the last chance for

Cambodia to move toward democracy and to get rid of the dictator."

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