A VOTE FOR 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
Funcinpec sources are already counselling Ranariddh to cut the best deal he can with
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."