THE MONARCH IN THE MIDDLE
King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath greet Dhammayietra peace marchers Aug 14 at the Royal couple's Siem Reap residence. Negotiations between the Cambodian People's Party and the opposition over the make-up of the next government remain at an impasse. With a constitutional crisis looming, King Sihanouk has offered to chair a "Siem Reap Informal Meeting" in an effort to break the stalemate.
THE opposition's reluctance to join the Cambodian
People's Party (CPP) in a Hun Sen-led coalition isn't
just losers' bullheadedness - they believe it's a matter
of their survival.
Funcinpec cannot imagine itself existing in five years'
time under Hun Sen. That's why it has joined the Sam
Rainsy Party (SRP) in demanding that the CPP dump its
prime ministerial nominee.
The problem is that no-one who matters supports them and
privately, some Funcinpec MPs admit their chances of
getting what they're after - including a measure of real
executive power - are slim to none.
Both opposition camps want to put their stamp on a
formalized and public "political program",
forged in agreement with the CPP, to chart the agenda of
the next government.
Rainsy says that a joint and accountable public program
detailing the new government's agenda would prove the
opposition did not want "power for the sake of
power... What we are most interested in is... a list of
reforms that the country will implement in the next five
But both parties want proof of CPP's sincerity before
even talking about it. The trouble is there is such a
huge gulf between what Funcinpec and Rainsy want and what
CPP is prepared to give.
Rainsy says that dumping Hun Sen is a
"non-negotiable" condition from which he and
Ranariddh won't budge. Many Funcinpec members can't see
how they could trust Hun Sen again.
But privately they know the tactic is doomed, serving
only to consolidate the CPP behind Hun Sen. King Sihanouk
and the international community are also against it.
The CPP last week simply reconfirmed Hun Sen's nomination
as premier, adding a face-slap that Chea Sim's National
Assembly chairmanship was now non-negotiable too.
"How can the losers make demands of the
winners?" one CPP member told the Post. "It
cannot be done. It is stupid."
King Sihanouk said Aug 12 that his "Siem Reap
Informal Meeting" to break the deadlock was not his
initiative, but simply an offer of a venue open to the
leaders if they chose to accept it - appearing to imply
that once Hun Sen has squeezed agreement out of Ranariddh
it could be cemented in Siem Reap.
The same week Sihanouk awarded Hun Sen the highest honor
for political service, that of "Moha Sirivath of the
Kingdom of Cambodia".
The international community, fresh from judging the
election a success, intensified its own sniping at the
opposition's apparent obstinacy.
Philippines Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon called it
"highly amoral or irresponsible" for opposition
leaders to fail to form a government. French President
Jacques Chirac and former UN-TAC chief Yasushi Akashi
both indicated a coalition was essential for stability,
and UN Secretary- General's Special Representative Lakhan
Mehrotra said the vote demanded that political leaders
here "must come together as best they can".
Ranariddh and Rainsy replied to Siazon: "We are
certain that you would never advocate that the Cambodian
people give up the same [democratic] ideal that the
Philippine people struggled for so bravely." Rainsy
has been given the job of replying to Chirac and Akashi
"I know there are a lot of entrenched interests to
push us to form a coalition government," Rainsy
said. "It would be so convenient to so many
people... [but ] if I cannot be a part of the cure, I
don't want to be a part of the disease. This coalition
will be a part of the disease."
But the problem isn't simply striking a balance between
the opposition and the CPP. Funcin-pec and the SRP
themselves are engaged in a careful dance to maintain a
relationship beneficial to both.
Ranariddh cannot afford to alienate either Rainsy or his
own supporters.Funcinpec officials interviewed by the
Post all believe that another failed coalition would
"What Funcinpec lost last July [in the coup] was
beyond their calculations," one CPP official said.
The CPP has offered Funcinpec 40% of the nation's
ministries; or, alternatively, Funcinpec 30% and Rainsy
10%. Rainsy pointedly ducked the question when asked to
give a definitive 'no' to a three-way coalition.
Rainsy doesn't think Funcinpec is naive enough to accept
"Hun Sen's sweets" to be led into "a
dangerous [coalition] trap", but Funcinpec MPs know
their options are limited.
They say they can't work with Hun Sen, but know that talk
of having him dumped is empty. They say they're testing
Hun Sen's sincerity by asking for amnesties for Nhek Bun
Chhay, Serey Kosal and Prince Sirivudh, but they know
that Hun Sen hates Sirivudh and that National Police
chief Hok Lundy and Bun Chhay are unlikely to peacefully
exist in the same country, let alone the same
The opposition wants grass-roots power-sharing too. That
is as unlikely, analysts say, as their calls for justice
for those supporters killed last July.
The deals are likely to come down to the
"sweets": who gets the key ministries that deal
with money and guns; and whether Ranariddh can be
accommodated to the satisfaction of everyone, perhaps as
co-chair of the National Assembly?
Sam Rainsy is using his 15 seats as would a boy playing
with matches in a hay barn. He says that the opposition
is in a "unique" position to pressure the CPP
to get rid of Hun Sen.
The battlefield, according to Rainsy, will be in the
National Assembly at the end of September. His party and
Funcinpec, he says, will "behave in such a way there
can be no [CPP] president of the National Assembly".
After the opposition's complaints about ballot
irregularities are heard by the Constitutional Council
"then we come to the problem of a coalition,"
Rainsy says. "Funcinpec and the SRP will not vote
for [Hun Sen].
"The chance of [CPP
president] Chea Sim, [CPP deputy prime minister] Sar
Kheng or Ranariddh becoming prime minister is much larger
than Hun Sen['s chances]." He claims that there are
CPP officials "whose names I won't reveal" now
talking to the opposition about deals that do not involve
Both Funcinpec and Rainsy say they will not boycott the
Assembly, but instead use their block of seats tactically
Publicly, Funcinpec say there can be no talk of coalition
until the Council has ruled on their complaints.
Privately, they know it will rule for the CPP.
Funcinpec got a boost Aug 17 from US Republican
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Ever the maverick,
Rohrabacher swung in favor of opposition claims that it
was intimidated and frauded out of office. Rohrabacher
said he would push for non-US recognition the new regime.
Funcinpec has lobbied successfully in the past to keep
Cam-bodia's UN seat vacant. One royalist politician said
"we only need one of the nine country members on the
UN credentials committee to vote against Hun Sen and [the
UN] will toss [the seat] out for another year".
But a Phnom Penh-based US official pointed out that
Roh-rabacher is not representing US foreign policy toward
There is no sense the international community is backing
Ranariddh and Rainsy; in fact, it is the opposite.
A break-through is bound to be engineered sometime in the
near future. It's difficult though to know by whom, and
Once a deal is made much of the opposition's leverage is
lost. There is still no formal avenue of contact between
the CPP and its opposition.
Funcinpec and CPP party presidents Ranariddh and Chea Sim
have attended one dinner together, followed by a round of
golf. The golf game produced wary talk between the two
leaders of health and families, not politics, sources
within both parties said cagily.
The Royal Government 1998-2003, many analysts agree, is
being founded on mistrust and doubt.
Stability, neutrality and national reconciliation are
only meaningful, it seems, as letters arranged correctly
on a page to form words, rather than concepts to strive
The fact that the protagonists aren't even talking
together is worrisome.
It is not, some say, the best mix for the next five