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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sirivudh urges green light for Hun Sen

Sirivudh urges green light for Hun Sen

LOS ANGELES, USA Exiled Prince Norodom Sirivudh said Hun

Sen should be given full legitimacy by the opposition and

allowed to "go it alone" if the CPP, Funcinpec,

and the Sam Rainsy Party can't agree to a constructive

coalition with specific goals.

In an exclusive interview on the King's birthday,

Sirivudh said that despite his regrets over what he

called a clearly fraudulent electoral process, Cambodia's

political stalemate should be ended and Hun Sen given the

chance to resolve Cambodia's main problems: poverty,

strife, a fractured econ-omy, illegal immigration,

environmental degradation and corruption.

"Give Hun Sen a vote of confidence, full credibility

and recognition inside Cambodia while Funcinpec goes into

opposition until the 2003 election. Hun Sen should do it

all alone."

Sirivudh said the unworkable power-sharing agreement

between Funcinpec and the CPP after the 1993 elections

made it clear that a joint government can only work if

the coalition works toward concrete goals agreed to by

all partners entering into an agreement. "I think

the coalition is good but with a contract."

As no workable coalition deal seems likely to be worked

out, Sirivudh said Cambodia's international donors should

grant legitimacy and back Hun Sen, the man who accused

the Prince of plotting his assassination, surrounded his

house with tanks and forced him to flee nearly three

years ago. Sirivudh was later sentenced in absentia to 10

years in prison in a court proceeding widely described as

a show trial.

Despite that, and the fact that Hun Sen threatened to

shoot down any commercial plane willing to bring the

prince back to Cambodia last year nixing the Prince's

return, Sirivudh claims to have no antipathy toward Hun

Sen. "We are all part of Cambodia. Thinking only

about winning is very partisan," he said, adding

that it may be in Cambodia's best interest to have the

other main parties teach the CPP the meaning of a

peaceful opposition.

Sirivudh went as far as to propose that the opposition

vote Hun Sen in as Prime Minister a move that would

likely help gain full international legitimacy for his

government and accept the CPP's parliamentary majority,

effectively muting the opposition's electoral complaints.

"You are now Prime Minister and have five years to

do it. I am suggesting that Hun Sen be given five years.

We don't modify the Constitution. We act as the check and

balance in the National Assembly. Fifty-eight [opposition

Assembly seats] against 64 [for the CPP]. Do what you can

to resolve the nation's problems. "

"Let me dream, to free Cambodia," he said,

calling on the government to encourage people to move to

less-populated regions in the east, reduce the army after

a generation of conflicts, come to an agreement to pacify

the opposition forces on the border, bolster rice

production and guarantee the borders. He also called for

a hydroelectric policy, thrice-annual rice cultivation to

bring down prices for Cambodians and boost international

sales.

A seemingly maturer Sirivudh said many of his beliefs

have changed with time. "Getting rid of Hun Sen will

not resolve anything. We have to make the CPP more

reasonable. Coalition isn't necessary."

He also questioned why the international community has

repeatedly encouraged a CPP-Funcinpec coalition even

though many diplomats complain about Funcinpec.

"The international community has so little respect

for Funcinpec. If I were you, I would want the CPP all

alone. Why do you want `these incompetents' in the

government?"

According to Sirivudh, Hun Sen has a chance to prove

himself worthy, despite what the Prince felt was a

tainted electoral victory, if Hun Sen manages to improve

Cambodia. "What are you going to do for us [Hun

Sen]?" he said.

As negotiations drag on over the creation of a new

government, Sirivudh suggested it is only normal that the

people, no matter who they voted for, hope for solutions

to the main problems facing Cambodia.

"How can these three factions deal with these

issues. How will they all negotiate illegal immigration,

the role in Asean, the seat of the UN? How does the King

see his role, will it be activist? That is what people

want to know."

A preferred option to such a scenario would be the direct

intervention of his half-brother, King Sihanouk, he said,

noting however that Hun Sen is hardly likely to agree to

such a scheme.

From Sirivudh's long-distance vantage point, the nation's

problems and respect for the will of the Cambodian people

should be national priorities, not partisan politics.

"I am ashamed that the will of the Cambodian people

has been screwed over since 1993. It would be better to

focus on what hasn't been done."

Sirivudh said Hun Sen, as the legitimized leader, will

have to ask his generals to stop cutting wood, allow

Interpol to fight against drug trafficking and bolster

the fight against child prostitution.

He also said that CPP shouldn't "hog the

blanket" of power. He noted that Funcinpec, the

electoral victors of 1993, agreed to give the CPP the

National Assembly's presidency, so now is the time for

payback.

"In 1993 Funcinpec was the winner. We made a

concession by accepting the (idea of) two Prime Ministers

and we made a concession by giving the presidency of the

National Assembly to the losing party (CPP). In 1998, we

are accused of being bad losers. That isn't true. It is

the CPP, which should play the role of 1993, of

concession, and give the National Assembly presidency to

Fun-cinpec...

"You are winners, through fraud, but at least the

issue of the co-prime ministers is not put forward

because we have reached a certain political maturity. So,

we negotiate on the five important ministries. Justice

must be served somehow," he said. "Ranariddh is

very reasonable. He doesn't ask to be co-prime minister

like [the CPP did] last time. We negotiate about the

pardons and the five main ministries.

"What concessions have been made up until now? Is

the president of the National Assembly going to

Funcinpec?"

Sirivudh said he thought Prince Ranariddh would be a good

National Assembly president despite his own past

disagreements with his half-nephew. Those disagreements

culminated in Sirivudh giving up his position as Foreign

Minister over divergences of policy with Ranariddh. As an

apparent result of their falling out, Rana-riddh gave

tacit support for Sirivudh's expulsion from the political

scene the following year.

Still, Sirivudh contended that Ranariddh has gained a lot

of experience since the July coup.

"I have a lot respect for Prince Ranariddh. I am

still a Funcinpec member. Prince Ranariddh has learned

from his good and bad experiences thus far. You

accumulate knowledge, you learn. I hope he can be part of

the process to resolve things."

Sirivudh said Funcinpec has learned along with Ranariddh,

adding that the party's lack of practical experience in

government made it face a high learning curve and many

embarrassments.

"Funcinpec is not perfect but that shouldn't blind

us to things Hun Sen does not do," he said.

"The CPP has experience running the country but not

in the good way. We (in Funcinpec) have two

personalities. But we are capable of being

musicians-playboys and strategists at the same time...

"The annoyance with some Funcinpec members shouldn't

prevent you from looking at CPP. They have controlled

everything administratively since 1981."

Sirivudh suggested that the CPP's long-time hold on real

power and the absence of ways for the people to voice

their concerns, along with the absence of real checks and

balances, has led in large part to Cambodia's explosive

social situation and the recent protests against Hun

Sen's rule.

"Cambodians want parliamentary debate, overall

stability, and a political program," he said, noting

that the lack of all three along with tainted elections

helped spur the September protests.

"Cambodians who are more or less reserved are not

afraid of guns anymore," he said, noting that

Cambodia's international and investors can't

"calculate over their heads."

While he deplored the violence of September, he warned

rallies might happen again as part of an Asian tendency.

"Some people still believe Asia needs strongmen yes

we have a respectful tradition but we have seen what

happened to Suharto despite his support from

international institutions. Burma, I think, is next. The

people are rising up," he said, adding "Suharto

is sort of the Indonesian Hun Sen.

Sirivudh also lamented the cancellation of the local

elections last year as the death-knell for democracy in

Cambodia for the coming years.

"Pluralism must be installed at the lowest levels.

It is the only chance for Cambodia," he said, adding

that grassroots politics would have been more successful

than Funcinpec's attempts to change things from the top

down.

"[The CPP] owes us a local election on a grassroots

level. Grassroots is the only chance in Cambodia. We need

local elections. We can't lose ourselves in looking for

[false] stability."

Another possible outlet to relieve Cambodia's social

tensions would be the National Congress required by the

Constitution, which would allow common Cambodians to seek

answers from those in power before the Royal Palace twice

each month. The National Congress, which descends from

then-Prince Sihanouk Sangkum Reastr Niyum between 1955

and 1970, has not been convened since.

Sirivudh said that while it is still premature for him to

consider a political role in Cambodia, he would like to

join other Cambodian citizens in seeking some answers

before the National Congress, which is supposed to meet

under the presidency of King Sihanouk.

On the issue of the King's successor, Sirivudh responded

only reluctantly, saying first and foremost that he hopes

King Sihanouk lives long and continues to guarantee some

level of stability for the country.

In the event of the King's eventual demise or

resignation, Siri-vudh said the race for the throne

should not become a political game and suggested the

Constitution be altered to allow the Queen to reign.

"We have to imagine stability, the queen reigning or

whichever Prince, as a symbol. We must show that the

people can not manipulate us with these games.

"Personally, I do not think at all about being a

candidate for the throne."

At the core of the issue is the modification of the

composition of the Council of the Throne, which he called

too political. The Constitution requires the council to

consist of the prime minister, the president and

vice-president of the National Assembly and the leaders

of the two main Buddhist sects, who will meet to choose a

new king within a week of the end of the current king's

reign.

"There are no candidates so it will be up to the

Council of the Throne. It must be a legal decision."

Sirivudh said Funcinpec would accept whomever the council

chooses as the new king but he warned that the choice

should not be made by politicians and the composition of

the council should be altered in advance of being

convened.

"We are required to follow the law as it stands at

the time of a vote," he said.

Sirivudh says he has learned a lesson from his failed

attempt to return in April, 1997 when no commercial

airline would let him board a Cambodia-bound flight after

Hun Sen threatened to down any airplane carrying the

prince into Pochentong Airport.

He said he would return after a political solution has

been found as part of an overall political resolution,

and that he does not want his return to aggravate the

political climate. He has no doubt however that he will

soon return, he says.

"I will do everything to return. It is out of the

question to grant an amnesty to the Khmer Rouge and keep

me out. Returning is at the forefront of my mind."

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