Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM endorses coalition

PM endorses coalition

PM endorses coalition

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said it is up to the people to decide if they want him

to keep his job, and suggested that no single party was likely to win an outright

two-thirds majority at the next election to enable it to govern alone.

"The CPP and Funcinpec are like an aircraft," Hun Sen said December 2.

"If the wing on one side is broken, the plane will crash."

His comments to thousands of villagers at a bridge-opening ceremony in Kampong Speu

came less than eight months before the general election, which is scheduled for July

27, 2003.

The coalition between the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and Funcinpec recently came

in for vocal criticism from some royalist party members, angered at what they see

as a CPP-dominated alliance rather than a true power-sharing arrangement.

Hun Sen told villagers the government had planned numerous infrastructure projects,

such as constructing new roads and upgrading existing ones. That, he said, should

help alleviate poverty by moving people from urban areas to the countryside.

"Actually there are big ambitions in this plan to cover the entire country,

but whether this plan will be undertaken depends on the people's support," he

said. "Whether or not I am still leader is a matter of whether the people vote

[for me] to stay. The people will decide.

"I am not using this issue for election propaganda purposes, simply because

the truth is that I want to stay in my job. I am only 50-years-old, and in another

ten years I will not be old."

But if he lost his job, he said, he would play golf and take his grandchildren for

walks. On pagoda visits he would simply leave food offerings like other villagers.

Heng Samrin, first deputy president of the National Assembly, told reporters on December

4 the CPP still supported Hun Sen as its candidate for prime minister should the

party win the election.

"Within the CPP there is no competition for Prime Minister, and if [Hun Sen]

is still prepared to stand, I will support him," Samrin said.

The CPP won the last general election in 1998, but Funcinpec and the opposition Sam

Rainsy Party (SRP) led protests against the result. In the end the CPP and Funcinpec

re-entered their coalition that was set up in 1993.

Funcinpec party members were disappointed during the commune elections earlier this

year when the party was trounced by the CPP in all but a handful of communes. The

royalists recently claimed that one million people were prevented from casting their

ballots.

Recent moves by senior Funcinpec officials indicate it has begun pre-election efforts

to distance itself from the perception that it is a political non-entity in the coalition.

In late November Senator Nhiek Bun Chhay sharply criticized corruption within the

government, and chastised the CPP for its inability to end border encroachment and

cut the growing gap between rich and poor.

His comments, among the strongest yet from a senior Funcinpec member, raised some

eyebrows. Party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh defended Bun Chhay to reporters

on November 24, saying that as a member of the Senate, he had the right to express

himself.

"I don't believe that there will be any conflict from [his comments],"

Ranariddh said. "I talked [afterwards] with Samdech Hun Sen in Bangkok in a

good atmosphere."

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith told the Post on December 4 that the existence of the

coalition meant both parties sat in the same boat, and had to maintain their alliance.

"When Funcinpec officials criticize the government, that means they are also

criticizing themselves. That will cause confusion among royalist voters, and could

result in their ballots going to other parties," he said.

"That is a policy that could kill [Funcinpec]. We are politically older, so

we don't worry. Our main consideration is to persuade more voters to take part in

the election. The CPP will not lose support in the 2003 election," he predicted.

Kanharith said the two parties had met on November 22 to celebrate the anniversary

of their political alliance. He said the CPP would hold its annual congress to select

its prime ministerial candidate at least five months ahead of the election.

He also accused some politicians of trying create political tensions in order to

delay the election and hurt the economy. Such actions, he warned, would cause the

people to blame the coalition government, and promote votes for "another party",

likely a reference to the SRP.

On November 24, Ranariddh also told reporters his party would examine the procedures

the newly-appointed National Election Committee (NEC) would use to manage the election.

The NEC has set up a process for registration of candidates, which will run from

January 17 to April 28, said the committee's Koy Vet. It has also instituted a system

to deal with complaints relating to that process, she said.

Voter registration would run fromJanuary 17 to February 15. Voter registration must

be completed 90 days before the election.

Koy Vet said the NEC's new members had made concerted efforts to study the election

law and procedures. The body had also set the first Saturday of the month as a meeting

day with local election monitors and civil society to ensure feedback was heard.

"We are making an effort to increase transparency, democracy and ensure free

and fair elections," she said.

Koy Vet said the government needed $12.6 million to run the election, around half

the cost of the 1998 ballot. Another 300 staff would be required to ensure smooth

registration.

Part of their remit would be to remove dead citizens from the electoral roll, update

addresses, and include new voters.

However some concerns were expressed by local election monitoring NGOs, as well as

lawmakers from Funcinpec and the SRP. They are worried the rules give commune clerks

too much power when registering voters.

Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, said the clerks, who were appointed after

the commune elections earlier this year, did not have enough experience.

"We are concerned about irregularities in the election process if voter registration

doesn't run well, particularly for those people who were not on the list for the

2002 commune elections and those who whose nationality was unclear," he said.

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