King Norodom Sihanouk arrives back in Cambodia on July 14. The King and his wife, Queen Norodom Monineath, had spent the past four months in Beijing where he was receiving medical treatment.
A SENIOR advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen has sought a meeting with opposition leader
Sam Rainsy to discuss a possible post-election coalition. Son Chhay, a legislator
with the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), said advisor Om Yentieng had made several approaches
over the past few weeks.
"Om Yentieng approached me at the CCHR [Cambodian Center for Human Rights] roundtable
discussion and said he'd already spoken to Rainsy about drafting an agreement for
a coalition," said Chhay. "He said Hun Sen had given him the green light
to work with the SRP on this."
Chhay said Yentieng had approached both him and the SRP's number four candidate for
Phnom Penh, Keo Remy, in an attempt to arrange a formal meeting. Remy confirmed that
he had been approached. Yentieng asked Chhay to intervene after Rainsy indicated
a vague willingness to discuss the matter, but then failed to return Yentieng's phone
Om Yentieng did not deny he had approached the SRP, but declined to elaborate on
any purported deal the Prime Minister may have proposed.
"I would like to exercise my right to keep secret the details of any discussions
with the SRP," he told the Post on July 16.
Son Chhay said Yentieng had told him that forming a new government would be a painstaking
task, and consequently there was no point delaying talks 'in principle' about a coalition
until after the election.
No party is expected to win outright two-thirds of the seats required to form a new
government at the July 27 election. The past two governments have been coalitions
between the CPP and Funcinpec.
Son Chhay said the SRP had rejected the talks, and was uncertain whether the offer
was genuine or merely a political ploy designed to make the SRP appear close to Hun
The opposition has for months tried to appeal to Hun Sen's opponents within the ruling
party by suggesting that a CPP-SRP coalition would only be possible without Hun Sen
as Prime Minister.
But when the Post contacted a senior foreign diplomat in Phnom Penh he said that
strategy was unlikely to succeed.
"The CPP is an extraordinary party. They always close ranks in the face of an
external threat, and I doubt the SRP could evoke a challenge from the Chea Sim faction,
or from any other faction," the diplomat said. "Sam Rainsy just simply
does not have the standing or the credibility within the CPP for that."
Chhay explained that the SRP's position was based on its belief that senior CPP members
were dissatisfied with Hun Sen. He claimed they said they were concerned the CPP's
main policymaking body, the Standing Committee, had been sidelined by Hun Sen. They
reportedly told him that one more term in government would put the Prime Minister
in a strong position to turn the party into a family dynasty.
The apparent overtures to the SRP come amid growing tensions between the current
coalition partners. Both parties have refused to wholly endorse the coalition while
they are campaigning.
For its part, Funcinpec has made numerous strident public statements criticizing
the CPP. Speaking to reporters on July 11, party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh
indicated that the CPP would need to make concessions to Funcinpec's policies if
a coalition were to be formed.
"I think it's hard to ask Funcinpec to join a coalition with a party that does
not have anything in its manifesto about borders, illegal immigration, justice and
corruption issues," he said.
He then launched into an attack on the ruling party, claiming to possess documents
which prove senior CPP corruption. He said that if he won power he would remove Senior
Minister Sok An-widely regarded as the second most powerful member of the government-from
all of his numerous positions.
Ranariddh claimed the letters-which he refused to share with journalists-were written
with the Prime Minister's approval and signed by Sok An. He said they proved an attempt
to entice Funcinpec tourism minister Veng Sereyvuth into granting the Angkor Wat
concession to CPP-linked company Sokimex. Ranariddh said Sereyvuth refused, but the
contract ended up with Sokimex under an April 1999 agreement anyway.
The CPP has also suggested that the current arrangement is not assured. That was
reinforced by CPP president Chea Sim on July 17. Speaking at Saravone Pagoda in Phnom
Penh, Chea Sim said his party would be happy to enter a coalition with "any
party", and warned Funcinpec not to criticize the CPP too much since that could
jeopardize future cooperation.
The diplomat suggested that Funcinpec's strident approach was likely to help it,
but felt the SRP would only marginally increase its 15 seats.
He also speculated that Hun Sen's approach to Rainsy did not reflect a fear that
the SRP would win more than a third of the National Assembly seats, but was probably
part of a move to strengthen his hand in negotiations with Funcinpec.
"It's clear that for Funcinpec there is a question about the modalities of a
new coalition, so it is a good strategy for the CPP to say, 'look there are plenty
more fish in the sea'," he said.
Were the SRP's strategy to succeed in sidelining Hun Sen, it would put deputy Prime
Minister Sar Kheng in an ideal position to take the top job. But when the Post put
that scenario to him at his Battambang campaign base, Sar Kheng laughingly dismissed
Son Chhay said the SRP was hopeful of winning enough seats to force the CPP to the
negotiating table. If the SRP wins 37 seats or more, a government cannot be formed
without its consent.
Son Soubert of the Constitutional Council warned that if two-thirds of the National
Assembly could not agree on the formation of a new government, that would provoke
a constitutional crisis. In that case, he said, it was the King's role under the
Constitution to intervene.
Theoretically, said Soubert, the SRP could use its Assembly seats to approve a CPP
government without forming a coalition.
But Son Chhay said the party would be prepared to go one step further and support
a constitutional amendment to allow a government to be formed by a simple majority.
Chhay said the SRP would support such a move, provided it received guarantees on
a number of areas for reform.