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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Opposition parties fighting for their lives

Opposition parties fighting for their lives



King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath greet Dhammayietra peace marchers Aug 14 at the Royal couple's Siem Reap residence. Negotiations between the Cambodian People's Party and the opposition over the make-up of the next government remain at an impasse. With a constitutional crisis looming, King Sihanouk has offered to chair a "Siem Reap Informal Meeting" in an effort to break the stalemate.

THE opposition's reluctance to join the Cambodian

People's Party (CPP) in a Hun Sen-led coalition isn't

just losers' bullheadedness - they believe it's a matter

of their survival.

Funcinpec cannot imagine itself existing in five years'

time under Hun Sen. That's why it has joined the Sam

Rainsy Party (SRP) in demanding that the CPP dump its

prime ministerial nominee.

The problem is that no-one who matters supports them and

privately, some Funcinpec MPs admit their chances of

getting what they're after - including a measure of real

executive power - are slim to none.

Both opposition camps want to put their stamp on a

formalized and public "political program",

forged in agreement with the CPP, to chart the agenda of

the next government.

Rainsy says that a joint and accountable public program

detailing the new government's agenda would prove the

opposition did not want "power for the sake of

power... What we are most interested in is... a list of

reforms that the country will implement in the next five


But both parties want proof of CPP's sincerity before

even talking about it. The trouble is there is such a

huge gulf between what Funcinpec and Rainsy want and what

CPP is prepared to give.

Rainsy says that dumping Hun Sen is a

"non-negotiable" condition from which he and

Ranariddh won't budge. Many Funcinpec members can't see

how they could trust Hun Sen again.

But privately they know the tactic is doomed, serving

only to consolidate the CPP behind Hun Sen. King Sihanouk

and the international community are also against it.

The CPP last week simply reconfirmed Hun Sen's nomination

as premier, adding a face-slap that Chea Sim's National

Assembly chairmanship was now non-negotiable too.

"How can the losers make demands of the

winners?" one CPP member told the Post. "It

cannot be done. It is stupid."

King Sihanouk said Aug 12 that his "Siem Reap

Informal Meeting" to break the deadlock was not his

initiative, but simply an offer of a venue open to the

leaders if they chose to accept it - appearing to imply

that once Hun Sen has squeezed agreement out of Ranariddh

it could be cemented in Siem Reap.

The same week Sihanouk awarded Hun Sen the highest honor

for political service, that of "Moha Sirivath of the

Kingdom of Cambodia".

The international community, fresh from judging the

election a success, intensified its own sniping at the

opposition's apparent obstinacy.

Philippines Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon called it

"highly amoral or irresponsible" for opposition

leaders to fail to form a government. French President

Jacques Chirac and former UN-TAC chief Yasushi Akashi

both indicated a coalition was essential for stability,

and UN Secretary- General's Special Representative Lakhan

Mehrotra said the vote demanded that political leaders

here "must come together as best they can".

Ranariddh and Rainsy replied to Siazon: "We are

certain that you would never advocate that the Cambodian

people give up the same [democratic] ideal that the

Philippine people struggled for so bravely." Rainsy

has been given the job of replying to Chirac and Akashi

as well.

"I know there are a lot of entrenched interests to

push us to form a coalition government," Rainsy

said. "It would be so convenient to so many

people... [but ] if I cannot be a part of the cure, I

don't want to be a part of the disease. This coalition

will be a part of the disease."

But the problem isn't simply striking a balance between

the opposition and the CPP. Funcin-pec and the SRP

themselves are engaged in a careful dance to maintain a

relationship beneficial to both.

Ranariddh cannot afford to alienate either Rainsy or his

own supporters.Funcinpec officials interviewed by the

Post all believe that another failed coalition would

"finish us".

"What Funcinpec lost last July [in the coup] was

beyond their calculations," one CPP official said.

The CPP has offered Funcinpec 40% of the nation's

ministries; or, alternatively, Funcinpec 30% and Rainsy

10%. Rainsy pointedly ducked the question when asked to

give a definitive 'no' to a three-way coalition.

Rainsy doesn't think Funcinpec is naive enough to accept

"Hun Sen's sweets" to be led into "a

dangerous [coalition] trap", but Funcinpec MPs know

their options are limited.

They say they can't work with Hun Sen, but know that talk

of having him dumped is empty. They say they're testing

Hun Sen's sincerity by asking for amnesties for Nhek Bun

Chhay, Serey Kosal and Prince Sirivudh, but they know

that Hun Sen hates Sirivudh and that National Police

chief Hok Lundy and Bun Chhay are unlikely to peacefully

exist in the same country, let alone the same


The opposition wants grass-roots power-sharing too. That

is as unlikely, analysts say, as their calls for justice

for those supporters killed last July.

The deals are likely to come down to the

"sweets": who gets the key ministries that deal

with money and guns; and whether Ranariddh can be

accommodated to the satisfaction of everyone, perhaps as

co-chair of the National Assembly?

Sam Rainsy is using his 15 seats as would a boy playing

with matches in a hay barn. He says that the opposition

is in a "unique" position to pressure the CPP

to get rid of Hun Sen.

The battlefield, according to Rainsy, will be in the

National Assembly at the end of September. His party and

Funcinpec, he says, will "behave in such a way there

can be no [CPP] president of the National Assembly".

After the opposition's complaints about ballot

irregularities are heard by the Constitutional Council

"then we come to the problem of a coalition,"

Rainsy says. "Funcinpec and the SRP will not vote

for [Hun Sen].

"The chance of [CPP

president] Chea Sim, [CPP deputy prime minister] Sar

Kheng or Ranariddh becoming prime minister is much larger

than Hun Sen['s chances]." He claims that there are

CPP officials "whose names I won't reveal" now

talking to the opposition about deals that do not involve

Hun Sen.

Both Funcinpec and Rainsy say they will not boycott the

Assembly, but instead use their block of seats tactically

within it.

Publicly, Funcinpec say there can be no talk of coalition

until the Council has ruled on their complaints.

Privately, they know it will rule for the CPP.

Funcinpec got a boost Aug 17 from US Republican

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Ever the maverick,

Rohrabacher swung in favor of opposition claims that it

was intimidated and frauded out of office. Rohrabacher

said he would push for non-US recognition the new regime.

Funcinpec has lobbied successfully in the past to keep

Cam-bodia's UN seat vacant. One royalist politician said

"we only need one of the nine country members on the

UN credentials committee to vote against Hun Sen and [the

UN] will toss [the seat] out for another year".

But a Phnom Penh-based US official pointed out that

Roh-rabacher is not representing US foreign policy toward


There is no sense the international community is backing

Ranariddh and Rainsy; in fact, it is the opposite.

A break-through is bound to be engineered sometime in the

near future. It's difficult though to know by whom, and


Once a deal is made much of the opposition's leverage is

lost. There is still no formal avenue of contact between

the CPP and its opposition.

Funcinpec and CPP party presidents Ranariddh and Chea Sim

have attended one dinner together, followed by a round of

golf. The golf game produced wary talk between the two

leaders of health and families, not politics, sources

within both parties said cagily.

The Royal Government 1998-2003, many analysts agree, is

being founded on mistrust and doubt.

Stability, neutrality and national reconciliation are

only meaningful, it seems, as letters arranged correctly

on a page to form words, rather than concepts to strive


The fact that the protagonists aren't even talking

together is worrisome.

It is not, some say, the best mix for the next five




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