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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec favors coalition with the CPP over Rainsy

Funcinpec favors coalition with the CPP over Rainsy

FUNCINPEC will offer to form a coalition with the Cambodian People's Party (CPP)

after the election, according to a senior party official.

The new government will likely not feature Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh,

according to both diplomatic and party sources.

If Funcinpec finishes second to the CPP and the two parties can secure the necessary

two-thirds of parliament, then Ranariddh will name a deputy prime minister, retain

the party leadership, perhaps give himself a senior government advisory position

and "prepare to be King", the official said.

If Funcinpec were to win outright, the CPP would still be invited to form a coalition,

said the official who would not be named. An Asian diplomat has agreed with this

probable scenario.

In an echo from 1993, the royalist official said that such a coalition was necessary

for peace in Cambodia.

Funcinpec and CPP have not yet had formal talks, he said. A senior member of the

opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) said that he had been told a high-level meeting

between the two rival parties may happen soon.

Such a meeting could also ease growing tensions that have seen allegations of government

troop movements, opposition secret armies, human rights abuses and intimidation of

voters and officials.

CPP officials refused to speak to the Post.

Ranariddh was ousted in a coup last July and has said he would never again work with

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

A compromise seems certain, given the likelihood that none of the main parties will

win the 82 seats needed to control the National Assembly.

Funcinpec learned lessons from the 1993-97 coalition and would insist earlier for

the concessions it thinks the CPP would have to provide, such as power sharing, the

Funcinpec source said.

Rainsy's party acknowledges that a CPP/Funcinpec coalition is likely and that it

would be "great for the CPP".

"[The CPP] loves to hear this," said a senior SRP official.

"Funcinpec believes there is no other way to run the country than with the CPP...

and that they're better off with the CPP than with Rainsy."

Analysts say that despite the apparent popularity of the opposition, the CPP may

have done enough to win back its 1993 tally of 51 seats.

Privately, CPP sources are saying it could be less - in the "high 30s",

according to one Western ambassador - but still enough to figure in any two-way coalition

talks.

Even if Funcinpec and Rainsy poll similarly, few analysts believe Rainsy has much

chance of being part of any deal. Rainsy's own party workers do not think a three-way

coalition is feasible and they would rather sit in opposition, although a senior

Western diplomat told the Post he would not rule it out.

The royalist official and others believe that the only unworkable result of Election

'98 would occur if the CPP polled so badly as to be relegated to opposition.

"It would only be trouble," the Funcinpec source said.

A senior foreign diplomat agreed: "That is hard to imagine."

Another Western diplomat told the Post: "We all know what will happen. After

the election they will form a coalition and go at it again."

Funcinpec reckons that Rainsy has himself tried do a secret coalition deal with the

CPP, though Rainsy party officials deny this on behalf of their leader.

Funcinpec is convinced that Hun Sen has infiltrated Rainsy's candidate list with

his own people who will split from Rainsy if they're elected, effectively boosting

the CPP's result.

Even Funcinpec doesn't trust "15 % of its own candidates" not to do something

similar, the Ranariddh loyalist said.

Regardless of conciliatory gestures toward a coalition, Funcinpec still fears that

it's being set up - as does Rainsy - for tough CPP action on allegations that Funcinpec

has a private army and that Rainsy conspired to have grenades thrown at himself and

his people last March.

The fears coincide with wide-ranging reports of CPP troop movements around the country.

According to an unconfirmed report the mobilizations are said to be in strategic

areas: Kampong Cham; Pearang district of Prey Veng; Romeas Hek district in Svay Rieng;

Takeo; Kampong Speu; and in Tuol Kork and Samnang Dapi in Phnom Penh.

Rainsy party officials explained that such alleged movements are intended to scare

people away from the places where they have registered.

Most diplomats and analysts think it is extremely unlikely there will be moves to

oust Ranariddh and Rainsy before the election. That would test to the breaking point

the international community's ability to recognize the new regime.

However senior Funcinpec officials think that most of the foreign diplomats here

will put a positive spin on anything the CPP might do to win power.

The differences between the three big parties would seem to make for an even weaker

foundation for a coalition than existed in 1993 - unless Ranariddh is given space

to move away from day-to-day politics.

Some analysts believe that the chances of an incident-free election are lessening

as Funcinpec's apparent popularity begins to hit hard at the CPP. Foreign wire services

are reporting that pressure from the top is causing nervousness at the CPP grassroots.

The CPP has long been revising its likely polling numbers downward: from 72 seats

to 62 recently published in a pro-CPP paper, to "what we got in 1993" which

was 51, according to a party official, down to as "some CPP people are now saying

in the high-30s", according to one Western diplomat.

Former Japanese ambassador Yukio Imagawa recently told Kyodo news that CPP should

get between 57 to 62 seats "unless the other two parties do better than expected",

and even then the CPP won't go below 50. Imagawa predicted Rainsy would get 18 to

20 seats. Imagawa said Ranariddh was "complacent" and "unlikely to

do well", though he did not venture a number.

Imagawa said it was difficult to know why Hun Sen was not campaigning harder. Some

analysts here say Hun Sen knows himself to be unpopular and has, regardless, "played

every trick" to ensure an acceptable result, said one Cambodian opposition source.

The number of seats won by other parties is unlikely to be high, and many of those

parties, by the CPP's own reports, are affiliated to Hun Sen anyway.

Rainsy said in a July 14 speech that he thinks the CPP will rig an electoral majority

come polling day.

Ranariddh has denied that he has a secret army, having distanced himself from Funcinpec

general Nhek Bun Chhay's resistance in the northwest, which doesn't seem to have

the power to project itself far out of its jungle bases.

Unsurprising to many however, the issue has been revisited by the CPP with less than

10 days to go before polling.

Defense co-Minister Tea Banh told Reuters July 11 that "for sure [Funcinpec]

are preparing their forces. But we don't want to make any trouble which could affect

the electoral process. We'll see after the election."

Ranariddh replied that the allegation was being created to stop Funcinpec from participating

in the election.

"It's nonsense," said one of Ranariddh's senior advisers. "Why do

we need an army? We can just go to the polls and get the support of the people."

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