CAMBODIA'S political standoff appears to be fraying the nerves of Phnom Penh's political
elite. On September 10, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) scrambled to deny a suggestion
that King Norodom Sihanouk was lobbying for the formation of a government without
Hun Sen as Prime Minister.
Chea Sim, chairman of the CPP, took the unusual step of issuing a statement to deny
he had received a letter from the King proposing the new government.
According to the statement circulating around Phnom Penh, the King wrote to the CPP
suggesting that Chea Sim replace Hun Sen as Prime Minister and install Sar Kheng
as deputy PM in charge of security, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh
as deputy Prime Minister in charge of culture and social affairs and opposition leader
Sam Rainsy as senior minister for economics.
But Sim denied that the proposal even existed.
"Chea Sim, chairman of CPP would like to deny that he has ever received such
a message and ... does not believe that His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk offered
an opinion against the will of voters," he wrote.
The King responded to Sim in a personal letter on September 11. He claimed the story
was an injustice against him and condemned the "rumor mongers".
"There were people who decided to mistreat me and my throne in order to defame
my prestige," the King wrote.
The rising tension comes as political parties rapidly approach the deadline to establish
a new government.
Although there has been no public progress in the negotiations, the three elected
political parties have agreed to attend the first session of the new National Assembly
expected to convene at the end of September.
"The date I must choose to hold the National Assembly is either September 25,
26 or 27," the King wrote in a public declaration earlier this month. "If
the three political parties elected by the people ... do not go to the Assembly ...
then those parties must be responsible to the voters and for our national constitution.
[If one or two parties refuse to attend the first Assembly meeting], I will not go
and I will not be responsible for this issue."
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith appeared less hopeful about the chance of forming a
new government than a few weeks ago.
But he reiterated that Hun Sen is the CPP's only candidate for Prime Minister.
"We are optimistic, but I cannot guarantee [a coalition will be formed] because
it will depend on the cooperation of the three parties, not just the CPP," he
Funcinpec deputy secretary-general Nan Sy told reporters on September 10 that Funcinpec
and the SRP would refuse to enter negotiations to form a new government if Prime
Minister Hun Sen does not step aside, something he has flatly refused to do.
Sy said the Alliance of Democrats, formed between Funcinpec and the SRP, would continue
and that its lawmakers would vote against Hun Sen as the new Prime Minister. He added
that the government will only form if the CPP offered an alternative candidate to
Hun Sen for Prime Minister at the Assembly meeting.
"The CPP must be held responsible to the nation if the new government cannot
be formed," he said.
Officials from the Alliance of Democrats have been traveling overseas in an attempt
to win support for their position. Leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec
secretary general Prince Norodom Sirivudh left for the US and Europe on August 29.
The pair met with representatives of Cambodian communities in the US, as well as
members of the US Congress, said Ung Bun Ang, spokesman for SRP.
Senator Mitch McConnell, a vocal critic of Hun Sen, issued a statement after meeting
with the pair that described the demand for Hun Sen step to aside "reasonable
Prince Ranariddh was originally scheduled to accompany Rainsy on the trip, but he
joined a delegation of parliamentarians to Pattaya in Thailand where the group planned
to research Thailand's successful development of its coastal areas.