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,"
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
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
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
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
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