Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen set for the fruits of victory

Hun Sen set for the fruits of victory

Hun Sen set for the fruits of victory


Hun Sen casts his ballot July 26 at a polling station in Takhmao as his

father Hun Neang (left) and journalists look on.

UNOFFICIAL prime minister-elect Hun Sen is very close to being able to dictate a

coalition with the opposition he beat so resoundingly in the July 26 general election.

Hun Sen has only to finish a bit of bothersome paperwork and break - or perhaps accommodate

- a sudden petulant alliance between Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy to form

a government.

Funcinpec sources are already counselling Ranariddh to cut the best deal he can with

the victors.

And yesterday (July 30) Hun Sen surprised many by offering Rainsy a coalition spot

- which may just be an opening gambit given that it goes against all public utterances

from previous months.

After those few chores are sorted the CPP can consolidate and begin anticipating

the fruits of the international legitimacy it's been denied - barring the clumsy

four-year period when it shared power - since 1979.

The mathematics of the CPP's victory is an academic exercise, notwithstanding the

losers' grumblings of fraud which were continuing at Post press time.

The bigger the CPP's winning margin the bubblier its champagne will be, but in some

ways even beating Funcinpec by a single seat would have been victory enough.

Hun Sen can now impose the pace, position and deals that will form the new government,

and also drive its future agenda.

But first - assuming some evidence comes to light - the National Election Committee

(NEC) then the Constitutional Council will be asked to rule on allegations of fraud,

mis-counting and mis-reporting. It would surprise many if the NEC and the Council

ever rule against the CPP. It's well-known that the CPP dominates those bodies.

Meanwhile, Hun Sen has the slight irritation of roping in his partner - or partners

- to form a constitutional government.

The electoral arithmetic, as it stood at Post press time, demands it at least be

Funcinpec. But Ranariddh is standing arm-in-arm with the maverick Rainsy in refusing

to accept defeat or to enter the National Assembly. It may eventually irk Hun Sen

if the Prince delays Funcinpec's inevitable entry into a coalition for too long.

Hun Sen's initial response was to say he would amend the Constitution to allow for

sole majority rule - which legal experts say is unlikely.

He then said in a July 29 interview with Thai TV: "I also discussed with Ung

Huot last night and said that if things could not be worked out... that [you] brother

and me keep going on," he said with a chuckle. "That's funny," he

laughed again. "So the National Assembly is CPP, Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy, and

the government is Hun Sen-Ung Huot."

He appeared confident and relaxed during the interview, as one might holding a royal


Hun Sen visited King Norodom Sihanouk in Siem Reap July 30, and analysts were guessing

that the King may soon be of a mind to suggest to his son that some accommodation

may be in order. It was after this meeting that the unexpected offer to Rainsy was


Ranariddh didn't appear at what journalists say was a disorganized press conference

July 29 where more opposition complaints of voting and counting fraud were aired.

Party insiders say privately that Ranariddh was simply reacting to a shock defeat

but is now back listening to wiser counsel reminding him of the party's back-up plan

should it lose to the CPP.

"He'll calm down" and eventually go to Hun Sen's negotiating table with

Funcinpec's wish-list, said one insider. Near the top of the list will be a new job

for the Prince as National Assembly chairman.

Funcinpec wants to name a deputy prime minister. The leading candidate is party secretary-general

Tol Lah, but there are others who fancy themselves. That race will have to be resolved


The royalists will also want a senior Finance Ministry position, at the very least.

Rainsy may want that too if he's moved to accept a governmental partnership.

Funcinpec won't push hard for significant influence within the ministries of interior

and defense, sources say. Hun Sen has some ambitious allies up for those jobs which

won't be for negotiation.

Funcinpec does want some guarantees of grassroots power-sharing. However it couldn't

do that even as the coalition leader in 1993-97 and it's difficult to see it being

more successful as a subordinate partner now.


Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy lodge their election complaints at a

July 28 press conference. The two National United Front allies said they

would refuse to join in a coalition government - a potential constitutional

crisis - if the NEC did not adequately respond to their concerns.

The political landscape could have been different for Ranariddh and Rainsy had they

been able to work together. They are set to get about 50% of the vote between them.

Senior Western politicians told both men months ago that they would divide the opposition

vote and that united they would have a better show at winning Cambodia.

They couldn't listen and Hun Sen won. The interest now is how the CPP will govern

the country and how the key positions will fall.

Hun Sen is in position to give even more power - political and otherwise - to loyalists

such as National Police Chief Hok Lundy, Kandal First Deputy Governor Kun Kim, Cabinet

co-Minister Sok An, Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara, Military Police

deputy commander Sau Sokha, military strongman Keo Pong and businessman Teng Boonma.

If the number of people expecting prime ministerial favor is more than the available

positions then Hun Sen will have to be canny not to alienate anyone, especially within

his own party. But there's a lot of largesse to hand round.

Ranariddh and Rainsy may think they're strengthening their positions by playing hard-to-get

- and that may well be very true - but it's unlikely to take them long at the negotiating

table to be thankful for what they can get. They have nothing but their parliamentary

seats to offer the CPP.

Hun Sen is, to quote a recent Associated Press report, "the undisputed master

of Cambodian politics", and his power has been multiplied many times following

his wild successes over the past week.

He has positioned himself into sole executive power on the verge of international

blessing at just 47 years of age. He is the product of violent times, but his reputation

has a lot to do with intelligence and being a shrewd tactician who has repeatedly

outwitted his enemies.

He is now singly responsible for one of the poorest, most uneducated and unhealthiest

constituencies on the planet. Many are still frightened.

Observers are questioning whether having obtained the brass ring, Hun Sen "the

statesman" will provide adequate leadership to keep Cambodia's recovery on track,

or whether unruly elements within his party and the fractious nature of Cambodian

politics is too big a job for any one individual. Both his detractors and his supporters

will hold him to this standard.

There has never been one time when Cambodia has been part of the United Nations,

ASEAN, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asia Development Bank, the World

Trade Organization and other groups, and a recipient of aid, trade and recognition

from every other country in the world. That is the heady mix at Hun Sen's fingertips


The international community, in its mixed-up way, has given the green light for all

this to Hun Sen. He is not likely to let internal nuisances like vote counting and

coalition-forming hold back such rich prizes for long.

Khmers have voted in the hope that a new government will lead Cambodia into peace.

That's their most cherished prize.

The common question from the streets and on the motos in the last few days has been:

"Does this mean there'll be no more problems?" There's relief and hopeful

smiles at the equally hopeful answer, "No more problems."


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