Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New Govt: who's really in control?

New Govt: who's really in control?

New Govt: who's really in control?

When scores of opposition party figures were sys tematically gunned down during the

elections, the U.N. accused the ruling Cambodian People's Party of controlling the

death squads. And when the CPP lost the election, their leaders mounted an armed

secession of the eastern half of the country refusing to hand over power.

The glow of the elections has long faded, the U.N/ has gone, the transition period

over, and, with muted pomp, a new government was formed earlier this month.

But many analysts say that when the smoke clears and the rhetoric subsides, those

in real power in Cambodia may remain the same CPP leaders who lost the U.N. organized


Despite the U.N. leaders self-congratulatory applause of UNTAC as a "model"

for the future missions, the election results have become only one of the influences

that will decide the new government.

The entrenched old methods of power politics - intimidation, the threat of violence,

factional power bases, and the control of armed forces, security apparatus, and the

loyalty of rank and file beauracracy - will remain the dominant forces determining

who comes out in control of the new government in coming months.

FUNCINPEC has emerged with the key portfolios of the Prime Minister's office, Foreign

Affairs and Finance, while the CPP has the 2nd Prime Ministership, key positions

in the Council of Ministers, Commerce, Agriculture, and the head of the National


On paper the two parties share the leadership of the Interior and Defense Ministries.

The Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party(BLDP) has been given the Information portfolio

in a compromise between the two larger parties.

But analysts say that in itself, the leadership of these ministries represent only

the veneer of power and control. They say the traditions of organizing power in Cambodia

are rooted in control of the armed forces, interior and security apparatus, state

beauracracy and, importantly, the provincial political structures which control police,

armed forces, tax collection, and civil service.

These areas remain under the control of the CPP faction and respond to political

loyalty before central authority, analysts say.

FUNCINPEC officials say that such an analysis is premature since they only just assumed

office, and that they did not have the authority during the transitional government

to make serious efforts to take control of the ministries they were awarded.

"The Royal government has been only two weeks in operation," Economics

and Finance Minister Sam Rainsy told the Post on Nov. 15. "This is still a transitional

period," he said, but claimed that efforts to gain control of the government

would be a priority of his party.

"We will introduce FUNCINPEC cadre to all levels of ministries," he said,

argueing that many CPP cadre actually voted for his party.

"The CPP knows they are fighting a rear-guard action [to keep loyalty]. They

know the trend is not for the CPP. The trend is for democracy. The development of

the country means political transparency and that is against the CPP interests,"

he added.

Others were more pessimistic. "They [FUNCINPEC] control their offices, their

cars, but they do not control the beauracracy," said one official close to Sihanouk.

"The official titles are just theater - a cinema," said another source

close to Sihanouk.

"Inside the roots of the CPP are too deep, mainly the Sar Kheng/Chea Sim people.

The administrative structure has been maintained, the military status quo and the

administrative status quo. Not 100 percent but 90 percent. Only 10 percent will be

fulfilled by FUNCINPEC," he said.

Observers point to the Foreign Ministry as an example of the difficulties FUNCINPEC

has faced in assuming real control of the ministries they have been awarded. FUNCINPEC

sources say that only two of their officials have been appointed to the ministry

since they assumed control more than three months ago - the Foreign Minister Prince

Norodom Sirivuddh and an Assistant Secretary of State.

Rainsy admitted that having the central government gain control of the provincial

apparatus, where 80 percent of the population reside, will be difficult.

He cited "defacto autonomy of the provinces [ that] we have had neither the

time nor the political means to bring the provinces under central control, otherwise

there would have been chaos".

Rainsy said, "central authority has very little knowledge - not even to speak

of control - but knowledge of the provinces."

Cambodia's provinces, under the communist style system, are controlled by a governor,

who's real authority come from his position as head of the all-powerful provincial

Party apparatus.

He traditionally controls provincial armed forces, the police and security services,

the beauracracy, and revenue collection. He reports to the party, not the state.

In the provinces, the CPP structure remains wholly intact, giving enormous national

power to people such as Sar Kheng.

Sar Kheng, some diplomats and analysts say, is emerging as one of the single most

powerful personalities in the new government.

Made one of two vice Prime Ministers, Sar Kheng also maintains his position as Minister

of Interior. But it is his role in the CPP party structure that has given him the

influence that he wields.

His biography mirrors many who remain powerful in the new Royal government. Sar Kheng

was born Jan. 15, 1951, in Prey Veng province to a father active in the revolutionary

Issarak movement.

He joined the revolution on the day of the Lon Nol coup in 1970 (according to his

official biography, although it is believed he was active prior to this) and steadily

rose up the Khmer Rouge ranks.

He survived purges of his superiors in 1976, working in propaganda organs in the

northeast and east under the Khmer Rouge and joined the resistance against Pol Pot's

leadership in May 1978.

After the Vietnamese invasion he served as secretary to then party head Pen Sovann,

before Sovann himself was purged and arrested by the Vietnamese in 1982.

During the Vietnamese occupation, Sar Kheng steadily rose through the ranks, serving

in key organizational party posts, elected to the central committee in 1984, the

politburo in 1988, and in 1990 was given one of the most powerful positions in a

communist structure, that of president of the party's commission for organization.

He is the brother in law of party chairman Chea Sim.

As head of party organization, Sar Kheng controlled virtually all appointments to

party posts, which under the Leninist structure supersedes in importance government

or state positions. This includes provincial governor ships and scores of other key

positions of influence in state organs and ministries.

When the Paris Peace Accords required the CPP to remove direct party control over

the components of government, Sar Kheng assumed his new position of minister of interior.This

is a rough equivalent of the party's organization portfolio, because of it's supremacy

over the nationwide beauracracy.Much of the new government's civil servants - at

least indirectly - owe him their jobs from when the Party was in charge of approving


With Chea Sim in charge of the National Assembly (a post he retains from the 1980s

when Cambodia was a one-party state) and Sar Kheng in charge of the Interior Ministry,

their faction wields enormous power with the security services, the legislative body

and the provincial authorities.

The intellectuals within the CPP are largely allied with Hun Sen, who controls the

other faction within the CPP. In the cabinet line-up of the new Royal government,

all except a handful of senior CPP officials are Hun Sen loyalists, observers say.

As a result, Sar Kheng has begun to attract and recruit a number of intellectuals

to policy positions in the Interior Ministry.

A number of senior officials of the Liberal Democratic Party (formerly the armed

wing of the republican Khmer People's National Liberation Front) are expected to

hold positions with Sar Kheng.

Analysts say that after a poor showing in the elections, the LDP leaders need patrons

to protect them, and the Sar Kheng Chea Sim faction - largely controlled by former

peasant revolutionaries - need intellectuals to give them legitimacy and help them

adjust to a more complicated political terrain of diplomacy.

The KPNLF attracted a number of savvy, bright, educated technocrats to their guerrilla

movement in the 1980s. The former chief of cabinet for the Liberal Democratic Party,

Ok Serei Sopheak, has been recruited as chief of Staff at Sar Kheng's Interior Ministry.

Like many from the LDP, he is widely respected as a bright, knowledgeable politician

and administrator by diplomats and others - exactly what the CPP faction lacks.

But analysts say the alliance is a logical one as well. Many KPNLF intellectuals

remain deeply suspicious, as do the CPP, of a powerful monarchy and Royalist control

over political decision.

"It is a coincidence of interests," says one senior KPNLF official. Another

said it offers a healthy "checks and balance" to the rise of Royalist influence.

Diplomats say that Sar Kheng and Chea Sim remain more suspicious of a powerful monarchy

than Hun Sen.

As an indication of the rising star of Sar Kheng, the Post has learned he has been

invited to officialy visit the United States in coming weeks. Sponsored by the United

States Information Service, the trip is designed to expose foreign leaders to the

mechanisms of democracy and political pluralism, and will include an itinerary largely

designed by Sar Kheng himself. Sources say that one of the purposes of the trip is

to wean him away from the influence of Vietnam, his patron during the last 14 years.

Diplomats say that it appears Hun Sen and his faction are declining in influence,

with much of the role they played in the old government - of a moderate face acceptable

to the West - having been co-opted by FUNCINPEC in the new government.

"Hun Sen knows that the Chea Sim group and FUNCINPEC want to eliminate him.

He is weak, but still has real power," said one senior official of the new government.

Added a diplomat:"Don't underestimate him."

Some point to the conflict over the appointment of Son Soubert to the vice president

of the National Assembly as demonstrating that Hun Sen still maintains influence.

While Chea Sim supported the appointment and Hun Sen opposed it, Chea Sim could only

deliver 11 CPP votes on the first attempt. It was only after Sihanouk intervened

that Soubert was approved, according to sources close to the debate.

During the elections many of the hard-line party operatives (mostly loyal to Chea

Sim and Sar Kheng) were replaced on the ballot by CPP United Front technocrats and

moderates (mostly loyal to Hun Sen) to give the CPP a more gentle reform image to

the electorate.

As a result, the CPP assembly representatives are disproportionately composed of

Hun Sen loyalists.

The only people who appear to be happy about all this potential for conflict within

the ranks of the new government is the Party of Democratic Kampuchea - the Khmer


Khmer Rouge sources say that despite the widely-held belief that they are terminally

ill as a political force in Cambodia, they remain confident that the new government

will collapse under the pressure of internal conflicts. They predict an increase

in corruption and say a declining economic state in the rural areas will undermine

popular support for the new government after an initial political "honeymoon"

of several months.

Their mood is "confident" and their strategy is to maintain control over

their forces, encourage instability in the countryside, exploit discontent among

FUNCINPEC cadre, and wait for an opportunity to seek a greater role in a future administration.

Sources say that King Sihanouk keeps direct contact with the Khmer Rouge and remains

convinced they should be brought into some power-sharing role for the sake of long-term


Sources point to Sihanouk's recent decision to appoint Khmer Rouge senior diplomats

to his personal cabinet in Beijing as an indication of his sentiment towards the


While it is much too early to predict which political trends will prevail, it is

increasingly clear that the elections served only as a moderate influence in the

struggle for political power in recent months and that much of the real conflict

lies ahead.

While analysts agree that the elections bestowed a vital legitimacy of popular support

on FUNCINPEC which forced the CPP to bow partly to popular will, the fundamental

means of how power is achieved, protected and maintained, remains constant to that

in modern Cambodian political culture- rife with united front alliances, partnerships

of convenience, backroom powerplays, and the promise of conflict at the first show

of weakness.


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