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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"[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
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
"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
"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."