GOING NOWHERE BUT UP...
"I would be prepared to step down. From Second Prime Minister to First Prime Minister," Hun Sen said.
KING Norodom Sihanouk and his wife Queen Monineath are playing out key roles in post-election
Cambodia while Prime Minister-elect Hun Sen remains content to let the opposition's
'people's movement' blow harmlessly about him.
On the surface, Cambodian politics seem red-hot. There are unprecedented street demonstrations
involving tens of thousands of people - some of whom set fire Aug 31 to a Khmer-Vietnamese
statue in a public park - and threats to boycott parliament. Opposition figure Sam
Rainsy escaped what may have been an assassination attempt on Aug 20.
The opposition has continued protesting the election results and maintained their
fantastic call that Hun Sen be sacked. Prince Ranariddh said he would even disobey
his father the King if he was ordered to work with Hun Sen.
A relaxed Hun Sen said Sept 1: "I will step down - from Second Prime Minister
to First Prime Minister." He said the demonstrators would be safe to stay where
they were "for three months [or] six".
Hun Sen knows that political power-brokering is going on not in the streets but in
the palace, believing the King - and the Queen - will effect his coalition government.
Funcinpec leader Prince Noro-dom Ranariddh told the Post Sept 2 that Sihanouk indeed
wanted a CPP-Funcinpec coalition.
"It's difficult to be the King's own son rather than his adopted son. That's
Hun Sen. Samdech Hun Sen, as an adopted son, has the right not to listen to the King.
I, as his [natural] son, don't have such a right," Ranariddh told a press conference
later the same day.
But Ranariddh said "respectfully, I would disobey" the King if he was ordered
to form a coalition under Hun Sen. "I think His Majesty the King would not take
the risk inviting two parties [the CPP and Funcinpec] to attend the first session
[of talks at Siem Reap]."
CPP President Chea Sim and Hun Sen were due to meet Sihan-ouk Sept 3. Those within
Fun-cinpec who want Hun Sen sacked say part of their plan is simply to ensure Ranariddh
can resist going to Siem Reap.
Sihanouk, at Post press time Sept 2, had invited representatives each from Funcinpec,
the CPP, the SRP, the NEC and the Constitutional Council to Siem Reap to discuss
technical matters from Sept 5-7.
Some analysts see the situation as less a crisis but more simply politicians jockeying
for position until an inevitable deal is struck and - more importantly - because
royal personalities are trying to secure significant futures for themselves
It will be resolved in a "face-saving" way, said one Asian diplomat.
Ranariddh could yet accept Hun Sen's Sept 2 offer of a titular role outside parliament
as "Supreme Adviser" and make the semantic argument that he wouldn't be
working under Hun Sen.
However, it seems for now Ranariddh can do little but play the "anti-Hun Sen"
game to its conclusion, or risk losing all credibility given his comments to date.
"Ranariddh told Rainsy last week that he wants revenge on Hun Sen for [the coup]
on July 5," one Rainsy insider told the Post.
Prince Norodom Sihamoni met with Hun Sen and Chea Sim on Aug 30 and Ranariddh on
Aug 31 with, say insiders, a message that Sihan-ouk desired a coalition. "Tell
Papa I will agree," one royalist source quoted Ranariddh's response - only for
the Prince to appear hand-in-fist with Rainsy at the "Tent City" demonstration
the following day, making even stronger calls for Hun Sen's removal.
The King is "smiling his Bayon face", as one Khmer politician described
it - the Bayon being the four-faced god statue of Angkor. Under this premise, Sihanouk
selectively makes his thoughts and advice known to all actors, much of it probably
contradictory - all the while muddying the waters further even as many look to him
for a solution.
"It's a game that he knows and plays well," smiled one CPP insider. "Hun
Sen knows all of these games. The trick is not being caught red-handed at [playing]
Queen Monineath, according to those within Palace circles, has been close for some
years now to the CPP, and is particularly respectful and aware of Hun Sen's king-making
During this time the Norodom princes Chakrapong, Sirivudh and Ranariddh have been
discredited from the throne while Monineath's own son, Sihamoni, remained relatively
The Queen also enjoys what sources say is a controlling influence over Sihanouk.
One CPP official said Monineath "has a lot of influence within the [CPP] party".
A source close to the Palace said that Sihanouk was like "someone who has been
moved to a retirement home too soon, and is being looked after by a very severe nurse."
In the delicate game of guaranteeing a royal future in the post-Sihanouk Cambodia
sometime in the future, sources say that Monineath - who will be the King's mother
if and when Sihamoni wins the throne - is in a more comfortable position today than
her stepson Ranariddh, who may have been maneuvered into a corner with neither royal
nor political pretensions.
Foreign diplomats are also pushing for a coalition solution to an election they paid
for and lauded as, according to US Congressman Steve Solarz, a "miracle on the
There is mounting gossip that CPP is making offers of money, ministries and other
positions to Funcinpec MPs - some of whom have already had ministerial jobs in the
past and know the value of them to their pockets.
"It's true some people [within Funcinpec] want to join a coalition," Ranariddh
said Sept 2, "but for the time being everything is under control."
After early election results confirmed that a CPP-led coalition with Funcinpec was
required to form a government, Funcinpec suggested the creation of a 15-strong "coalition
committee" - five officials from each of the three parties that won seats. However,
it later reneged on the idea after the CPP had already named their five negotiators.
A CPP politician said his party's team was to be led by the party's electoral architect
Say Chhum and Cabinet Minister Sok An.
Funcinpec denies this. Rana-riddh said he was not aware of any such committee and
party vice-president Mu Sochua said the story was a "rumor trying to break us
from within... I question now the interests of some of these diplomats. There [has
been] absolutely no policy from the top."
The CPP, according to one party analyst, made a mistake at this point by delaying
a quick settlement toward a coalition. "We never thought that Funcinpec would
agree with Rainsy about [getting rid of CPP leader] Hun Sen."
Rainsy, according to a source within his own party, had decided his strategy before
the election should he fail to win a majority. "He said he would make the lives
of the Constitutional Council miserable... that he would flood them with hundreds
"That gradually transformed [from allegations of voting fraud and intimidation]
into direct attacks against Hun Sen," he said.
Rainsy, according to a CPP source, was "lucky not to have been assassinated"
outside the Ministry of Interior Aug 20 in an 11pm grenade and shooting incident,
where a Cambodian driver for Kyodo News was killed.
Although the CPP has scoffed at demands to dump Hun Sen, opposition pressure may
be having some effect. CPP sources say that National Police Chief Hok Lundy and Kandal
Deputy Governor Khun Kim - Hun Sen loyalists both - may be sacrificed because of
"mistakes" made in the past.
The opposition allege Lundy was involved in the murder of Funcinpec Interior Secretary
of State Ho Sok at the ministry's compound after the coup last year.
Funcinpec would see Lundy's removal as a huge concession toward a coalition "but
I will believe it when I see it," said one CPP politician.
Lundy either removed himself or was removed by his own party from the capital during
the rising tensions over the opposition sit-in.He spent four days or so in Australia
unitl Sept 1 on a multi-entry diplomatic visa issued before July last year by the
Lundy has children studying in Australia and embassy sources say his visit there
was supposed to be for "family reasons".
But some CPP sources suppose Lundy may be having to mull his own future. "Maybe
Lundy knows that he would be better as a businessman [rather than being involved
in the administration]," said one CPP official.