Funcinpec can shoulder much of the blame for the weak position it now finds itself, though CPP is skilled and unafraid
to use fair means and foul to ensure they remain so. Jamie Factor reports.
Have Cambodian democrats weathered the worst intentions of their opponents when nobody was watching? Has pluralism
become a permanent declaration of popular will as competing parties gear up for a contest in which winner takes
all? Or does Cambodia face an internationally acceptable threshold of election-related violence on a playing field
that is no more level than ever before?
In the 1970's film, 'The Candidate", Robert Redford portrays a character who seeks elective office on a platform
of change from the status quo. With no prior experience in government, he wins the election, seemingly against
all odds. The film closes with the candidate's ominous question "Now what do we do?". The viewer, like
the fictional candidate, is left to wonder and hope that a sequel will provide the answer. The same can be said
For more than a decade, Funcinpec operated under the banner of a beloved monarch as a resistance movement in exile.
The 1993 Royalist campaign was marked by an impressive demonstration of unity, perseverance and courage. Despite
the recurring threat of intimidation and brutal acts of violence, 300 Funcinpec party offices were opened and staffed
throughout the country in the months leading up to the election. What has happened to these fearless campaign warriors
in the time since the UN brought the illusive promise of power to the former party of a King who reigns once again
but does not govern?
Since winning Cambodia's first-ever democratic elections three years ago, Funcinpec has taken few of the steps
required for making the transition from resistance to a modern governing political party. The absence of human
and financial resources - including the transfer of top campaign leaders to ministerial positions, and the disparity
in wealth and properties between the CPP and the Royalist party - is cited by Funcinpec members as a significant
barrier to building an effective party organization. Equally obstructive to this process are the unpredictable
demands of a complex and volatile relationship with a more powerful coalition partner. This, they point out, deflects
the attention of senior party officials as they struggle to govern amidst an uncooperative and partisan bureaucracy.
Others paint a more dismal picture. "Funcinpec is a one man-show. There was no evaluation, no discussion about
whether Funcinpec was healthy or sick. There was no internal debate about party management, our position on the
CPP, or anything else," says the party's former secretary-general, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, now exiled in
Paris. Even a healthy person needs a medical check up every once in a while - but not Funcinpec. The doctor is
scared of his patients. This is not normal.
If the strength of a political party is determined in part by the number of people who identify with it, then party
identity is its most valuable asset. On this point, Prince Sirivudh asks "Who and what is Funcinpec?"
Indeed, when a party relies solely on the popularity and dynamism of an important personality it may face an identity
crisis when the mantle of power is passed on - especially if that leadership is transferred to a less forceful
or inspiring individual.
Moreover, if this change is accompanied by an increase in expectations that are not subsequently met, criticism
may be swift and harsh. Yet an important test of any leader is the ability to tolerate bad news. If a leader is
impatient in his demand for subservience - indeed if this becomes the defining characteristic of party loyalty
- then resentment and apathy are bound to emerge. From such sentiments as these come the seeds of reproach and
Still another explanation for Funcinpec's failure to focus on party organization lies dormant in the provinces.
Although leadership is a quality that not everyone has, leadership development is a process that almost anyone
can benefit from. Yet Funcinpec did not even consider looking, beyond an elite few to fill party positions that
were vacated by those who went on to serve in the Royal Government. Moreover, in the months following the election,
very few of Funcinpec's elected or appointed officials even left Phnom Penh.
Had they traveled more often to the provinces they could have spoken to some of the nearly two million people who
supported Funcinpec in the last election. They would know that informal leaders exist at every level of Cambodian
society - even if they are not recognized through appointed or elected position and title They work in the fields
and forests, markets and schools. They build bridges and roads and they head NGOs. While some clear minefields
so that their families can eat, others labor in vain to relieve the suffering of those who lay injured or dying
in hospitals from yet another dry season offensive, against an enemy that by most accounts is already beaten.
By remaining in the capital Funcinpec officials did not see the signs of distress on the faces of local activists
who pursued their tasks with single-minded dedication, but were then left to fend for themselves as if the election
had never taken place. They didn't notice the anger of party workers who risked their lives for a victory that
would never be theirs. And they didn't listen to the sounds of disaffection. If they had, they would also know
that it will take more than the rhetoric of politicians to regain the trust and confidence of those whom it neglected
and thus betrayed. By severing this vital link to the needs of the Cambodian people, the Royalist party lost its
most valuable channel of information. By abandoning provincial supporters with no explanation for why they won
the election but have no power, Funcinpec broke the cardinal rule of electoral politics.
If public expectations were unrealistic from the start, it is at least in part because the Paris Agreements, and
later UNTAC through its failure to implement key provisions of the accords, led the Cambodian signatories to make
campaign promises that none could reasonably be expected to keep - even if they wanted to.
As a prime minister and professor of politics, Funcinpec's president knows that no political party, for example,
can deliver jobs to all of its supporters. Yet voters like decisive leadership. They still wait for imperfect solutions
to their problems only for as long at they as believe that someone is genuinely trying to help them. Because voters
tend to reject weakness they also prefer leaders s who don't leave the country each time a crisis looms.
Funcinpec's greatest challenge lies today not in the consolidation of authority at the helm of an already top-heavy
organization, but at the base. Complicating the need to reconfigure some semblance of local party structure are
the obvious deficiencies of the current political arrangement. When thousands of Funcinpec supporters came recently
to the capital for the first time since the election they re-elected their president. Having jettisoned two of
his most capable and popular politicians, this was no doubt reassuring. But they also sent him a message, hence
Funcinpec's demand for the district positions it has long deserved. Whatever the outcome of the power-sharing dispute
Funcinpec has more than enough to do just to maintain the momentum of this long-overdue party congress - a marathon
race against time if there ever was. The CPP in comparison, has already crossed the finish line.
While Funcinpec and its allies held Cambodia's seat at the UN, the former State of Cambodia was busy building a
sophisticated party apparatus with the full weight of the national treasury behind it. Despite comments by the
second prime minister who encouraged his own rank and file to "leave the politicians to the conflicts",
the CPP does not relegate its supporters to a lower caste. And while it has not completely rejected the concept
of mandatory political participation, not all party members follow lock-step and blind on the heels of their leaders
When the CPP met with American political party institutes in July of 1993, barely a month had passed since the
aborted secession drive in the eastern provinces brought about the UN's recognition of Cambodia's interim coalition
government. The CPP's request for technical assistance was curious: it had all but rejected the opportunity for
similar cooperation during the campaign. It was not the sudden discovery of democracy and its benefits that brought
about the CPP's change of heart, but rather it seemed at the time to reflect an almost desperate need to understand
why it lost the election. As Hun Sen pointed out in a wide-ranging interview with an American journalist early
last year, there may have been a more sinister motive: "If you have no proper information about the enemy,
you can't attack them. We wish the same for the CPP." Whatever the reason for requesting this assistance it
was received and delivered.
During this period, as Funcinpec scrambled to fill its positions in the government, CPP leaders were more worried
about how to accommodate post-UNTAC expectations of political reform without giving up any more power than they
already had. In his capacity as a member of the CPP standing committee, Sar Kheng assumed the role of liaison to
the USAID-funded institutes and proffered a shopping list of issues on which his party sought advice. Here it should
be noted that Sar Kheng was not only a diligent and contemplative participant but subsequently led his colleagues
and subordinates through a year-long process that must have seemed both alien and in hindsight of arguable merit.
But from such topics as "... the organizational structure of the party at all levels, the role of the Opposition
Party, and the relationship between the Party and Assembly and Party and Government" to "... propaganda
work after the election and the organization of elections", party stalwarts acquired the new vocabulary they
needed to project and communicate an image of reform in support of the new Cambodian democracy.
It wasn't until Prince Sirivudh was appointed secretary-general of his party - more than six months after the election
- that Funcinpec began to notice what its coalition partner was up to. By then, it was too late.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the CPP has developed a skilled core of cadre who work voluntarily in pursuit
of a common goal. The party rewards their dedication much the way that any organization should - by advancing people
up through the ranks to even greater positions of authority. This, more than coercion, helps to maintain discipline.
It also enables the CPP to safeguard its interests in the government and the parliament - and still have more than
enough people left over to plan a winning strategy for the next election. Hun Sen, in his typically unrefined manner,
is unequivocal on this point as well: "The CPP has resources, 100,000 armed forces and 10,000 police. In reality,
no political party has more people, more staff, more experience than CPP". These advantages, as he also put
it, flow from ".. the reality of history." Indeed, the SoC's inexorable merger of party and state has
found a new home in the Royal Government.
If the arithmetic speaks for itself, why do Cambodia's former communist rulers continue to rely on the threat of
violence when it hardly seems necessary to ensure their triumph at the polls? First, habit is a powerful behavioral
force. Although the CPP has embraced Cambodia's chaotic transition to the free market, it remains a communist party
in structure, mindset and custom. Elections, and the voluntary persuasion they represent, are an unfamiliar and
uncomfortable proposition for those who still view the actual use of force as an acceptable political strategy.
There is a second, and more important, reason for the use of such force: the CPP is simply unwilling to risk defeat
once again. The propensity for violence - combined with the organizational ability to mobilize supporters for elections,
mass demonstrations and other political activities - presents a formidable obstacle to any challenger. Yet this
did not prevent Funcinpec from developing a rural network of support through a back-door infiltration of SoC villages
and communes during the last campaign, nor did such tactics as the confiscation of voter registration cards or
the assassination of provincial workers deter the Royalist party from achieving the unthinkable by winning the
Since then, the CPP's need for retroactive recognition of the SoC regime has only increased. This is most apparent
by the face-saving determination with which it moved to reinstate January 7 as a national holiday. However narrow
Funcinpec's overall margin of victory, it was more than enough to humiliate CPP officials who could not imagine
the possibility of losing to those they still viewed as the enemy.
Interestingly, despite a lack of confidence about competing and winning in the democratic arena, the CPP reveals
an odd certainty about the manner in which ruling coalitions manage the messy business of democracy elsewhere around
the world: "In all liberal democratic countries... power sharing is only required for senior political officials."
If so, perhaps it is because power sharing is irrelevant in the lower levels of government. In most democratic
countries civil servants carry out their responsibilities regardless of political ideology or allegiance. Public
employees who accept payment from the personal bank accounts of senior politicians share a common fate with military
officers who receive cash incentives from the party coffers of prime ministers and presidents; when they are exposed,
they are held to account in an independent court of law. It is the non-partisan character of the civilian and military
bureaucracies in democratic countries that enables the state apparatus to withstand political changes at the top
- a worthy benchmark of stability in any country. And a good thing this is: like any marriage of convenience, coalition
governments last only for as long as they have to. In fact, if not by intent, they come and go all of the time.
If coalitions are inherently unstable what sort of electoral system might Cambodians expect in the future? At least
one ranking CPP leader remains publicly consistent about the need for free and fair elections in Cambodia. This
would be good news if it were not also true that Sar Kheng is expected to ensure that the interests of his party
are not threatened by the adoption of an election law that favors the inclusion of smaller parties and disenfranchised
political groups. Perhaps it is because the proportional system used by UNTAC had this affect that Funcinpec is
all too ready to accept a "first past the post" majoritarian approach. With the KNP breathing down both
of their necks, the coalition partners have presumably considered the other benefits that may accrue to each by
opting for a system that can also yield a two-party monopoly of power.
As things stand now, Funcinpec cannot guarantee that there will even be elections, let alone the safety and security
of its supporters when the time comes. Undue reliance on international observers would be fool-hardy - nor should
their involvement in future Cambodian elections be confused with the omnipresent nature of the UNTAC electoral
mandate. This is because observers normally perform a function that is intentionally limited in scope: they do
not educate, mobilize or inspire people to vote. Moreover, because they are supposed to monitor and report what
they see, they tend to get out of the way if and when trouble starts. Before signing off on the new election law,
Funcinpec would be wise not to mistake the obvious for the obscure. When despots rule, resistance brings violence
- and it is Funcinpec, as much as the KNP, that is most at risk. The proposed electoral system will not only structure
the competition between all parties to the advantage of the CPP, it will shape the political landscape of Cambodia
well into the next century.
The bad guy in a11 of this is still the second prime minister. Like any bully in a schoolyard Hun Sen relies on
what he knows best when encountering a troublesome opponent. Having got away with such tactics throughout his political
career, he will never be satisfied with anything less than total acquiescence to what he views as his incontrovertible
right to rule Cambodia with impunity. What his reform-minded party colleagues plan to do about the threat he poses,
not to the democratic opposition, but to their own legitimacy, is subject of much wishful thinking in Phnom Penh.
For all of his bravado, scaly though it is, Hun Sen is not alone. He is simply the public face of a unified party
that continues to tolerate no encroachment upon its vast sphere of influence and power. If there is any doubt about
this, consider CPP's official response to Funcinpec's threatened withdrawal from the government: "Any political
party or... force which intends to act in detriment to the nation and people must bear full responsibility for
all consequences which arise from their actions". It does not take a paranoid imagination to conjure up images
of ax-wielding mobs or shadowy assailants as the intermediaries of such blackmail. Moreover, when defending its
unfair share of power in the provinces, the CPP expects Royalist supporters to forget that Funcinpec won the election:
"... the integration accomplished to date represents the goodwill and... concession made by the [CPP] toward
Funcinpec." Since good intentions are inextricably linked to the credibility of those who claim to possess
them, CPP leaders should not be surprised if no one thanks them for bestowing a gift that is not rightfully theirs
Armed with fourteen years of advice from their mentors in Hanoi, self-preservation is the one thing that Cambodia's
former communist rulers covet above all else. Party unity, more than any instrument of war, is the sacrosanct tool
of these survivors. If there are proponents of reform within the CPP, they have yet to demonstrate greater concern
for anything else. Far from confirming the widespread assumption that the CPP is fraught with internal division,
the party's official statements suggest that its leaders are engaged in nothing more than a tactical ploy through
which good cops and bad cops follow each other's lead one calculated step after the other. And Hun Sen would agree:
"We in reality run only one CPP. No one can understand the CPP with a European way of thinking. But let them
maintain their assessment." Indeed, there is simply no evidence to support idle speculation that the CPP:
would act to shed, or even restrain, its malignant forces if this would risk a fatal shattering of the party.
The suggestion of an alliance between Funcinpec and the KNP has been offered by some idealists who view this ironic
prospect as a pragmatic and viable strategy to ensure the defeat of the CPP in the next elections.
In Cambodia, nothing is implausible, not even the pardon and recall of an exiled prince from Paris. But it is not
the survival of Funcinpec, or any other single party that will determine whether Cambodia returns to its authoritarian
past or whether a multi-party system prevails instead. This depends, at the very least, on whether non-elected
political parties are legally recognized and empowered to compete and participate in the political life of this
country - whoever their leaders and supporters might be, whenever they emerge.
"We have given the world a new formula ... we have one government with two [prime] ministers", said Prince
Ranarridh in a BBC interview one year ago when praising the achievement of political stability in Cambodia. Even
he might argue against his own point at the moment. But if this were ever true, it is a distinction that has set
Cambodia apart only for what it is implied about the inability of its leaders to compromise through reason.
As long as the current Cambodian leadership views this coalition government as the only possible deterrent to war
and violence, there is little reason to hope that they will advance Cambodia to a new stage of political maturity.
In the meantime, a legitimate contest between honest competitors would help.Province.