Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Election losers pack their bags

Election losers pack their bags

Election losers pack their bags

unghuot.gif
unghuot.gif

FROM 1ST PM TO FOOTNOTE

Ung Huot may feature as one of those tough questions in a Cambodian version of the game Trivial Pursuit: "Who was the First Prime Minister for 12 months starting in August 1997?"

WHAT a difference a year makes.

On Aug 6, 1997, Funcinpec Foreign Minister Ung Huot became Cambodia's new First Prime

Minister. On Aug 3, 1998, he wasn't even an MP following the complete rout of his

Reastr Niyum party in the elections.

"I think we accept the realities - we are not in the National Assembly,"

he said, twirling in his chair and smiling gamely during a press conference at his

residence.

"That's what democracy is all about. It's not what you do, it's what the people

decide." Many expected that his party's aggressive campaign would net a few

seats. Huot himself thought 50.

"I think it's one of the best campaigns we ever saw in Cambodia," he said.

But voters avoided the Reastr Niyum box in droves, despite Huot posters on seemingly

every third tree and telephone pole.

In Kampong Cham he only got 2,546 of 721,241 votes. It was fewer than the little-known

National Solidarity and Save Cambodia Women parties. Despite promises of more public

toilets and a get-incredibly-tough stance on crime (he advocated giving one public

warning to suspected criminals then shooting them), Huot got less than 1% of the

vote.

Many wondered what the former Funcinpec member stood for. After last year's coup

he turned down First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh's appeal to go into

exile. He was instead picked by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen as Ranariddh's replacement.

Huot formed the ultimately disasterous Reastr Niyum with other Funcinpec defectors.

He lay so low after the polls that he had to deny rumors at his press conference

that he had left the country. A couple of days before an aide said: "It seems

that he doesn't want to talk to anyone. He just keeps himself inside the house all

the time."

It was a change from his jubilant prediction after his nomination: "Me and Hun

Sen will be perfect. There will be no violence, we will run the country fairly and

democratically."

Today, two members of his party are dead in possible political killings and the party

has filed a complaint with the NEC about pre-election intimidation, lack of transparency

and counting irregularities, and asked for recounts.

The future of Reastr Niyum - and of soon-to-be-former First Prime Minister - is unclear.

"Our party will stay," he said. "We will look at our shortfall, our

strengths and weaknesses, and rethink our future."

Meanwhile, Son Sann Party leader Son Soubert is packing up his office as Assembly

second vice president. His party - a faction of one of the four major signatories

to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords - won't have one seat in the 1998-2003 parliament

either.

He looked back at the "hopes and enthusiasm" of the first National Assembly

in 1993, shook his head at the joke it quickly became, and said he's not at all sad

to leave.

"We hoped the National Assembly would have given us national reconciliation.

The CPP were really ready to compromise... and help tackle Cambodia's problems."

said Soubert.

For the next hour he ticked through the woes that followed. His own party, the Buddhist

Liberal Democratic Party, split apart in 1995. One of its MPs committed suicide in

his parliamentary office the same year, unable to bear what his work had become.

Ranariddh abetted Hun Sen, then consistently bowed to him and eventually broke. The

Assembly was constantly stymied by a lack of quorum and partisan bills were pushed

through.

His biggest regret is that parliament never solved the problem of land disputes.

"There was no majority will to solve this... now things remain the same,"

he said.

"We weren't lawyers. We weren't jurists. We had international advisers and they

helped... But the final thing that confirmed for me that the National Assembly was

just a puppet was when we could not revise the laws of procedure. It was always so

difficult to make the Assembly work," he said.

Decent bills - the declaration of revenue law and an anti-corruption law - were lost.

Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Sirivudh were lost to Funcinpec, the only party with

the strength on paper to match CPP's.

"Ranariddh was told of CPP's plan but he never believed it," Soubert said.

"The values of our country are upside down. You talk about honesty and integrity?

People here think you're crazy... they think you can't be intelligent enough to earn

[corrupt] money" the way other politicians do.

And the future? "I was just [recently] talking to [UN special representative

Lakhan] Mehrotra. He is really optimistic. I'm not. The Assembly will continue to

be a rubber stamp because the CPP will dictate... The CPP is the state.

"All the dreams of rule of law are gone... corruption will continue to plague

Cambodia," he said, continuing the litany: drug trafficking, smuggling, neighboring

border disputes.

"I don't feel sad to leave," he repeats, "because in my conscience

I fulfilled all I could do. I just regret I could not do more."

Other losers include National Assembly First Vice President Loy Sim Chheang's Sangkum

Thmei party, Information Minister Ieng Mouly's Buddhist Liberal Party, and Siem Reap

Governor Toan Chay's National Union Party.

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • Nestle’s debut may spur dairy market

    Leading confectionery manufacturer Nestle plans to invest in Cambodia by setting up an operation in the near future, a move majorly hailed by local dairy farmers as a means of boosting the fresh milk market in the Kingdom. During a visit by a delegation led

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement