THE impasse that has prevented the formation of a new coalition government and undermined
Cambodia's international credibility for the last eight months may soon be over.
Prince Ranariddh can break the deadlock, while a subdued Sam Rainsy waits in the wings.
The leaders of the two major parties - the Cambodian People's Party and the Funcinpec
Party - made a tentative agreement, copies of which have been leaked to the press.
This was reached during a visit by Prime Minister Hun Sen to Funcinpec leader Prince
Norodom Ranariddh's house on March 15.
On March 28 their respective senior working groups are expected to meet to thrash
out the sharing of ministries and major policy issues.
The CPP won a comfortable majority in the 2003 elections with 73 seats in the National
Assembly compared to Funcinpec's tally of 26 seats, and has made significant concessions
towards a working coalition. The Sam Rainsy Party has 24 seats and it remains unclear
at press time whether they will participate in a new government.
The constitutional requirement for a two-thirds majority to govern has paralysed
the process, prevented formation of a coalition and resulted in a logjam of laws
and financial instruments waiting for ratification and sign-offs.
Hun Sen and Ranariddh committed their respective parties to set up a new government
based on a "two and a half coalition," leaving the door open for the Sam
Rainsy Party to enter the government at the invitation of the royalists - if they
Observers consider that the two-and-a-half formula is an ingenious way of bridging
the gap between CPP's insistence on a two-party coalition, and the demand of the
Alliance of Democrats (Funcinpec-SRP) that it must be nothing less than a three-party
The CPP views a three-party coalition as unwieldy and unworkable, but has accepted
SRP participation in the coalition through the 'backdoor of Funcinpec'.
This means Funcinpec may offer SRP a portion of the 11 ministries promised to them
under a power-sharing agreement.
It is clear that all three parties have become more conciliatory in the past week.
There is every indication that after eight wasted months when Cambodia could have
been focused on attracting much-needed foreign investment, a belated sense of a common
national interest is coming to the surface to end the absurdly prolonged deadlock.
CPP has made important concessions to many opposition concerns over border problems,
immigration, and corruption by addressing these issues in its draft memorandum, which
precipitated the March 15 deal with Prince Ranariddh (see separate box).
One of the CPP's biggest concessions is acceptance of the creation of a separate
Ministry of Immigration. On another key controversy over Cambodia's disputed borders
with Thailand and Vietnam, a CPP memo proposes the creation of a National Council
on Border Issues, including representatives from all parties and the palace.
But mistrust resurfaced after the CPP working party received a draft from the Funcinpec
side that instead of responding to the CPP memo, launched into an entirely new framework
demanding a 50:50 coalition, with the three most important ministries - Finance,
Interior and Foreign Affairs - being handed over to Funcinpec.
A CPP senior source commented: " This draft leads me to question the sincerity
of Prince Ranariddh and others in Funcinpec. This is 120 percent different to the
existing framework of the March 15 agreement. Now we can no longer be sure about
the success of the working party meeting."
But Kassie Nou, speaking for Funcinpec, denied all knowledge about this draft.
While conceding that some Funcinpec individuals may have passed on such a draft,
he stressed it had no official status.
Why has it taken so long to even get to this stage? Soon after CPP was proclaimed
the election winner, Funcinpec and the SRP closed ranks to set up an "Alliance
of Democrats", protested against the results, and declared neither would work
in a coalition headed by CPP's choice of Prime Minister, Hun Sen.
In all systems of parliamentary democracy the rule is that the leader of the winning
party gets to be PM and is not normally selected according to the preferences of
the opposition. But the conundrum faced by the CPP was that no new government could
be formed without a coalition and without the cooperation of at least one other party.
PM Hun Sen may finally have a deal after an eight-month impasse.
The deep divisions in the ranks of the royalists also weighed in favour of alliance-building
rather than coalition-making. Prince Norodom Sirivudh (Ranariddh's uncle) led the
so-called hardliners against any more two-party deals with the CPP. This soon translated
into a unified opposition call for a three-party coalition or nothing at all.
Once again the two-thirds majority required by the constitution for the approval
of a new cabinet was the insurmountable hurdle paralyzing Cambodian democracy.
The two-thirds majority clause in the constitution forced the formation of coalition
governments after elections in 1993 and 1998.
Dr Lao Mong Hay has called the two-thirds principle "The Gordian Knot of Cambodian
politics" which condemns the CPP and Funcinpec to repeat the same post-election
games after each election. An appeal by the King to amend the constitution some months
ago did not produce any initiative from the parties to cut the knot.
If the next election in 2008 produces an SRP victory and CPP comes second, commentators
can foresee that the shoe will be on the other foot, which could be the reason the
CPP has not proposed any changes.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association, told the
Post on March 24 that the Democrats will decrease their popularity in the 2008 elections
if they go into government without a commitment to bring reform to satisfy their
"If the Democrats consider their supporters who died for democracy such as Chea
Vichea, those politicians must be strongly committed to a clean government rather
than to stay with the current government," Chhun said.
An SRP source said: "I think about 50 percent of our supporters have indicated
they don't want to join the coalition government in which Funcinpec is always No
2. If Funcinpec does not change its position and includes seats for selected SRP
politicians in a dirty coalition government then party support will be lost and it
will be difficult to build popularity for the 2008 elections."
Events now appear to be on course to deliver not only a new coalition but a new style
In the last coalition, 1998-2003, Funcinpec complained that while they had more than
40 percent of the ministries, CPP dominated in policy and actual power. This time
Funcinpec is insisting on policy-sharing as well as position sharing.
The issues raised by the alliance include: unfair border treaties, more effective
immigration control, judicial reform, anti-corruption law, and more government transparency
Lao Mong Hay says that "the circumstances are more favourable than before. The
CPP cannot bulldoze all the time as in the past". Another political analyst
sees that "there are pressures on all parties to reform and change including
A member of the CPP Central Committee said Prince Ranariddh "is the key to the
settlement. Everything depends on him. A new coalition depends on him. The future
of the alliance also depends on him."