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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Relaxed Hun Sen holds the royal key

Relaxed Hun Sen holds the royal key

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GOING NOWHERE BUT UP...

"I would be prepared to step down. From Second Prime Minister to First Prime Minister," Hun Sen said.

KING Norodom Sihanouk and his wife Queen Monineath are playing out key roles in post-election

Cambodia while Prime Minister-elect Hun Sen remains content to let the opposition's

'people's movement' blow harmlessly about him.

On the surface, Cambodian politics seem red-hot. There are unprecedented street demonstrations

involving tens of thousands of people - some of whom set fire Aug 31 to a Khmer-Vietnamese

statue in a public park - and threats to boycott parliament. Opposition figure Sam

Rainsy escaped what may have been an assassination attempt on Aug 20.

The opposition has continued protesting the election results and maintained their

fantastic call that Hun Sen be sacked. Prince Ranariddh said he would even disobey

his father the King if he was ordered to work with Hun Sen.

A relaxed Hun Sen said Sept 1: "I will step down - from Second Prime Minister

to First Prime Minister." He said the demonstrators would be safe to stay where

they were "for three months [or] six".

Hun Sen knows that political power-brokering is going on not in the streets but in

the palace, believing the King - and the Queen - will effect his coalition government.

Funcinpec leader Prince Noro-dom Ranariddh told the Post Sept 2 that Sihanouk indeed

wanted a CPP-Funcinpec coalition.

"It's difficult to be the King's own son rather than his adopted son. That's

Hun Sen. Samdech Hun Sen, as an adopted son, has the right not to listen to the King.

I, as his [natural] son, don't have such a right," Ranariddh told a press conference

later the same day.

But Ranariddh said "respectfully, I would disobey" the King if he was ordered

to form a coalition under Hun Sen. "I think His Majesty the King would not take

the risk inviting two parties [the CPP and Funcinpec] to attend the first session

[of talks at Siem Reap]."

CPP President Chea Sim and Hun Sen were due to meet Sihan-ouk Sept 3. Those within

Fun-cinpec who want Hun Sen sacked say part of their plan is simply to ensure Ranariddh

can resist going to Siem Reap.

Sihanouk, at Post press time Sept 2, had invited representatives each from Funcinpec,

the CPP, the SRP, the NEC and the Constitutional Council to Siem Reap to discuss

technical matters from Sept 5-7.

Some analysts see the situation as less a crisis but more simply politicians jockeying

for position until an inevitable deal is struck and - more importantly - because

royal personalities are trying to secure significant futures for themselves

It will be resolved in a "face-saving" way, said one Asian diplomat.

Ranariddh could yet accept Hun Sen's Sept 2 offer of a titular role outside parliament

as "Supreme Adviser" and make the semantic argument that he wouldn't be

working under Hun Sen.

However, it seems for now Ranariddh can do little but play the "anti-Hun Sen"

game to its conclusion, or risk losing all credibility given his comments to date.

"Ranariddh told Rainsy last week that he wants revenge on Hun Sen for [the coup]

on July 5," one Rainsy insider told the Post.

Prince Norodom Sihamoni met with Hun Sen and Chea Sim on Aug 30 and Ranariddh on

Aug 31 with, say insiders, a message that Sihan-ouk desired a coalition. "Tell

Papa I will agree," one royalist source quoted Ranariddh's response - only for

the Prince to appear hand-in-fist with Rainsy at the "Tent City" demonstration

the following day, making even stronger calls for Hun Sen's removal.

The King is "smiling his Bayon face", as one Khmer politician described

it - the Bayon being the four-faced god statue of Angkor. Under this premise, Sihanouk

selectively makes his thoughts and advice known to all actors, much of it probably

contradictory - all the while muddying the waters further even as many look to him

for a solution.

"It's a game that he knows and plays well," smiled one CPP insider. "Hun

Sen knows all of these games. The trick is not being caught red-handed at [playing]

it."

Queen Monineath, according to those within Palace circles, has been close for some

years now to the CPP, and is particularly respectful and aware of Hun Sen's king-making

power.

During this time the Norodom princes Chakrapong, Sirivudh and Ranariddh have been

discredited from the throne while Monineath's own son, Sihamoni, remained relatively

shielded.

The Queen also enjoys what sources say is a controlling influence over Sihanouk.

One CPP official said Monineath "has a lot of influence within the [CPP] party".

A source close to the Palace said that Sihanouk was like "someone who has been

moved to a retirement home too soon, and is being looked after by a very severe nurse."

In the delicate game of guaranteeing a royal future in the post-Sihanouk Cambodia

sometime in the future, sources say that Monineath - who will be the King's mother

if and when Sihamoni wins the throne - is in a more comfortable position today than

her stepson Ranariddh, who may have been maneuvered into a corner with neither royal

nor political pretensions.

Foreign diplomats are also pushing for a coalition solution to an election they paid

for and lauded as, according to US Congressman Steve Solarz, a "miracle on the

Mekong".

There is mounting gossip that CPP is making offers of money, ministries and other

positions to Funcinpec MPs - some of whom have already had ministerial jobs in the

past and know the value of them to their pockets.

"It's true some people [within Funcinpec] want to join a coalition," Ranariddh

said Sept 2, "but for the time being everything is under control."

After early election results confirmed that a CPP-led coalition with Funcinpec was

required to form a government, Funcinpec suggested the creation of a 15-strong "coalition

committee" - five officials from each of the three parties that won seats. However,

it later reneged on the idea after the CPP had already named their five negotiators.

A CPP politician said his party's team was to be led by the party's electoral architect

Say Chhum and Cabinet Minister Sok An.

Funcinpec denies this. Rana-riddh said he was not aware of any such committee and

party vice-president Mu Sochua said the story was a "rumor trying to break us

from within... I question now the interests of some of these diplomats. There [has

been] absolutely no policy from the top."

The CPP, according to one party analyst, made a mistake at this point by delaying

a quick settlement toward a coalition. "We never thought that Funcinpec would

agree with Rainsy about [getting rid of CPP leader] Hun Sen."

Rainsy, according to a source within his own party, had decided his strategy before

the election should he fail to win a majority. "He said he would make the lives

of the Constitutional Council miserable... that he would flood them with hundreds

of complaints.

"That gradually transformed [from allegations of voting fraud and intimidation]

into direct attacks against Hun Sen," he said.

Rainsy, according to a CPP source, was "lucky not to have been assassinated"

outside the Ministry of Interior Aug 20 in an 11pm grenade and shooting incident,

where a Cambodian driver for Kyodo News was killed.

Although the CPP has scoffed at demands to dump Hun Sen, opposition pressure may

be having some effect. CPP sources say that National Police Chief Hok Lundy and Kandal

Deputy Governor Khun Kim - Hun Sen loyalists both - may be sacrificed because of

"mistakes" made in the past.

The opposition allege Lundy was involved in the murder of Funcinpec Interior Secretary

of State Ho Sok at the ministry's compound after the coup last year.

Funcinpec would see Lundy's removal as a huge concession toward a coalition "but

I will believe it when I see it," said one CPP politician.

Lundy either removed himself or was removed by his own party from the capital during

the rising tensions over the opposition sit-in.He spent four days or so in Australia

unitl Sept 1 on a multi-entry diplomatic visa issued before July last year by the

Australian Embassy.

Lundy has children studying in Australia and embassy sources say his visit there

was supposed to be for "family reasons".

But some CPP sources suppose Lundy may be having to mull his own future. "Maybe

Lundy knows that he would be better as a businessman [rather than being involved

in the administration]," said one CPP official.

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