Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Final bell rings in election title bout

Final bell rings in election title bout

Final bell rings in election title bout

INTO THE HOME STRETCH

Thousands of Cambodians turned out for massive rallies staged

by the Sam Rainsy Party, the CPP and Funcinpec on the last weekend

before election day. Indications of a tight race have all three parties

keeping their options open on a coalition government.

THIS Sunday's general election will be a watershed for two of the most important

men in Cam-bodia's recent history: Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The stakes are paramount. In some respects this is the final round of a title fight

where the opening bell rang in 1979, and fought ever since under constantly changing

rules and referees.

To lose on Sunday is an almost unthinkable proposition: Ranariddh as Hun Sen's deputy?

Hun Sen as Ranariddh's? But barring a CPP landslide and a bullish showing from its

acolyte parties, it is exactly one of these two unlikely mixes that many say is the

obvious outcome.

Election '98 won't be the final round of the fight between Funcinpec and CPP as parties.

Popularity and strength, respectively, will dictate their continued survival, though

losing will probably take more out of the former than the latter.

But the individual who leads his party into a coalition as subordinate to that of

his rival may not have a long political shelf-life, despite conciliatory public utterances

made by both about gracious acceptances of defeat.

Ranariddh may find second place a cold and lonely room. His campaign has again proved

that royalty is massively popular here, but if he can't transfer that into executive

power he's unlikely to be given or even want another shot at it five years hence.

Steering CPP into second place would be no less worrisome for Hun Sen, but his position

is very different.

He controls military, financial and grassroots power, and some say he couldn't give

that up to an historical enemy even if he wanted.

The CPP has labored long and hard - often playing hardball along the way - to maintain

its might and has been successful in doing so. In this regard the party's power is

as entrenched today as it was in 1993.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy put into words what many are worried about: "If

Funcinpec is interested in sharing in what happened before, then I am not interested,"

he told the Post.

"I think the CPP would favor Funcinpec over the Sam Rainsy Party... because

Funcinpec would be more flexible to the CPP's demands."

To the winner of Election '98 will go everything if there are no incidents in the

aftermath: international legitimacy - almost certainly within six months from Sunday

- and the strength to dictate ministerial, military and civil postings.

It won't be like the 1993 coalition, politicians from both Funcinpec and the CPP

insist. There's only going to be one prime minister and that will make all the difference

- somehow.

INTO THE HOME STRETCH

Thousands of Cambodians turned out for massive rallies staged

by the Sam Rainsy Party, the CPP and Funcinpec on the last weekend

before election day. Indications of a tight race have all three parties

keeping their options open on a coalition government.

Hun Sen has consistently spoken of CPP optimism for the party's chances on polling

day, but he has not gone so far as to predict he will be the next prime minister.

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith confirmed reports that the CPP's electoral expectations

have decreased over recent months, but the party's participation in a coalition government

- which would be guaranteed by the capture of at least 41 Assembly seats - is still

believed to be a sure thing.

"I can say that we will have a comfortable amount of seats," Kanharith

told the Post. "If we get what we had the last time, 51 seats, we will be happy.

If we lose one or two seats, that is still OK."

Still, he would not rule out the possibility of the CPP being forced into opposition.

"Sure, why not? But I don't think the CPP can be an opposition party because

I don't think the other can run the country [without the CPP]."

Ranariddh, Funcinpec insiders say, has an almost blinkered belief that he will win.

He publicly took the Post to task last week for reporting that senior officials in

his own party have acknowledged that the CPP, to quote one, "can't be left out

of the picture".

Ranariddh said it is too early to talk coalitions; so have Rainsy and Hun Sen. But

Funcinpec has plans for three possible election outcomes, according to party insiders.

In one plan, the party would "be tough" as winners, insisting on gaining

and exercising full executive power and setting Ranariddh up after one term to become

king.

In the second plan, Funcinpec would accept a junior coalition spot and allow Prince

Ranariddh a role away from day-to-day politics.

In the third plan - which the party hopes won't be needed - Funcinpec would accept

a life in opposition.

Of the 'big three' party leaders, Sam Rainsy is the most pessimistic on his chances

of capturing the premiership, but nevertheless doesn't count himself out.

"It will depend on what type of election we are going to have," he said

"If the election is a farce the results will be very bad for the opposition.

If it is a reasonably free election I think there will be a pleasant surprise for

the opposition and an equal surprise for the observers who have predicted victory

for the CPP."

Saying voter registration was "already biased and flawed" and expressing

worries of polling day intimidation and vote counting rigged by CPP-friendly election

workers, Rainsy predicted that the CPP will manage to win "at least 50% of the

seats" - or 61 out of 122 Assembly positions.

He also said he believes smaller parties aligned with the CPP will be "given"

between 15 and 20 seats during the vote counting. "In total, the CPP will manage

a two-thirds majority and a 'victory'," he lamented.

If the vote is free and fair - and Rainsy said this was "a very big if"

- he predicted that the CPP will win about 20% of the vote and that Funcinpec and

the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) will split the remaining 80%.

"It would be a landslide victory for the opposition," he said.

Many politicians interviewed by the Post discussed the possibility of a three-way

split of the votes between the CPP, Funcinpec and the SRP, a situation that would

create a tense period of coalition negotiations.

"I think we should form a three-way coalition with [the CPP, Funcinpec and the

SRP] because the more we are together, the more control there will be," Rainsy

said. "Even if the opposition is able to capture a two-thirds majority, then

I still think that we should try to seek out cooperation with some elements from

the CPP - the good elements."

INTO THE HOME STRETCH

Thousands of Cambodians turned out for massive rallies staged

by the Sam Rainsy Party, the CPP and Funcinpec on the last weekend

before election day. Indications of a tight race have all three parties

keeping their options open on a coalition government.

Khieu Kanharith said that "we do not exclude" the possibility of a three-way

coalition, but he predicted that Cambodia will end up with a CPP-Funcinpec coalition

government very similar to the one formed in 1993.

Funcinpec is the CPP's biggest electoral threat, he said, while the SRP's chances

have been exaggerate because "he is supported by the West and the press".

Everyone seems to agree that if a two-party coalition is formed, the SRP is most

likely to get shut out and will have to settle for five years in opposition.

"I am sure that Funcinpec will be our next partner, not our rival," Kanharith

said. "With Funcinpec, compared to the Sam Rainsy Party, you have many seasoned

people who know how to work in an administration...

"With the Sam Rainsy Party you only have people who know how to attack the government.

They don't know how to build up the country."

However, Hun Sen hinted on July 20 that both Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party will

be left out in the cold if the CPP and its satellites manage a strong showing on

election day.

"If the people give us the first place, we don't have to pick the number two

party or the number three party. We can pick the number seven, with enough seats

to make a new government," the Second Prime Minister said. "We may have

a coalition of many parties. But we are not letting a tiger into our house."

Kanharith said that however a coalition is formed, it must fill the ministries in

a way that will foster stability within the administration.

"We don't discuss this yet. It will depend on how the seats are allocated [among

the parties]," he said.

"When we say a coalition government, we realize that we will have to make compromises.

It there is someone from another party who has good qualifications to be Finance

Minister, we must consider that."

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