The days since the conclusion of U.N.-conducted elections have seen Cambodia descend
into what would seem a national embarrassment if the implications were not so depressing
for the country's future. In the wake of a solid defeat of the ruling Cambodian People's
Party in what was unanimously declared a free and fair election, State of Cambodia
Prime Minister Hun Sen on June 10 declared that the U.N. and foreign countries had
engineered a conspiracy of massive fraud and announced that "dissident figures"
in the CPP had seceded six eastern provinces, representing almost 40 percent of the
nation's territory, from central control in protest.
Behind the scenes a Byzantine soap opera centered around a feuding royal family came
to the surface. It pitted two half-brother princes, bitter enemies for years, vying
for political power and the allegiance of their father, who himself was obsessed
with avenging his deposition from power in a military coup more than 20 years ago.
Meanwhile, the U.S. $2.8 billion Paris peace agreement, the largest ever U.N. effort
of its kind, took a decided back seat to traditional Cambodian power politics, leaving
diplomats and U.N technocrats confused and muttering half-hearted protests as it
became all too clear that the principles of democracy had hardly taken root in this
By June 15, the secessionist movement had petered out, with Prince Norodom Chakrapong
and other senior CPP officials having fled the country to Vietnam.
But the several day period of instability had managed to tarnish the reputation of
many, particularly United Nation's Transitional Authority in Cambodia. chief Yasushi
Akashi and Hun Sen.
Akashi remained silent for more than 48 hours after the CPP officials announced their
secession plan, leaving many Cambodians wondering whose side UNTAC stood on- those
who had won the elections or those who opposed them. Many senior UNTAC officials
and others were appalled at UNTACs unwillingness to take a strong stand and lack
of political leadership in the face of CPP officials who were threatening violence
against UNTAC and attacking opposition party figures who had put their faith in UNTAC
promises that they would be protected if they showed support for opposition parties.
On June 15 Akashi announced that he "highly appreciated the efforts of Hun Sen
and reaffirmed UNTAC's intention to continue its thorough and objective inquiry into
complaints concerning the elections." Many UNTAC officials were appalled that
Akashi would complement the CPP official who was said to be behind the secessionist
movement and give legitimacy to the CPP election complaints that had been rejected
by every independent observer and all the UNTAC senior staff, according to UNTAC
Prince Norodom Ranariddh's FUNCINPEC party was declared the winner of elections by
a 7.25 percent margin over the Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party. FUNCINPEC
received more than 45 percent of the tally to CPP's 38 percent. The republican Buddhist
Liberal Democratic Party received slightly more than 3 percent of the votes. The
votes translated into 58 seats for FUNCINPEC, 51 for the CPP, 10 for the BLDP, and
one for an obscure FUNCINPEC offshoot party, Molinaka, in the 120 seat constituent
assembly. UNTAC, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and all international
observers declared the results fair.
But immediately the CPP began jockeying to force a power-sharing agreement that would
have effectively voided the election in order to give them more power than was accorded
them through popular polls. With the CPP threatening coups and military intervention,
Sihanouk unilaterally assumed full powers on June 4, in a "government"
that collapsed within 24 hours in the face of opposition from the victorious FUNCINPEC
and many of the key foreign countries who contended that the move violated the terms
of the peace accords and acceded to blackmail from the losers.
Faced with the unfamiliar concept of giving up power based simply on popular will,
senior CPP officials on June 6 formerly announced that they had seized control of
six eastern provinces bordering on Vietnam. The secessionist move was led by Prince
Norodom Chakrapong, a son of Sihanouk and deputy prime minister in the CPP government,
Sin Song, the head of the national security ministry which controls the CPP secret
police, and Bou Thong, a senior CPP standing committee member. But some analysts
agreed that the secessionist move had the sanction of Hun Sen and the CPP leadership
and was little more than a political ploy using military leverage to force a power
sharing agreement that would give them more power than accorded by the elections.
Nevertheless, the secessionists ordered UNTAC to leave the area they deemed the "King
Father Autonomous zone", and hundreds of opposition party officials fled to
the jungle or to Phnom Penh. FUNCINPEC and BLDP leaders claimed that dozens of their
supporters have been killed in recent days since the break-off. UNTAC evacuated it's
non-essential civilian personnel but refused to withdraw the U.N. military, who remained
in a tense standoff throughout the area.
While observers said that the movement was doomed to failure from the outset-it had
virtually no popular support and no chance of sympathy from any international sector-it
was not unexpected. Cambodia has no tradition of peaceful transfer of power, power
sharing, or even loyal opposition.
The concept of sharing power with enemies is alien to the former communists in the
CPP leadership and to modern Cambodian political culture. Asian diplomats said Chakrapong,
during a visit to Beijing in May, responded to a diplomat who asked him what the
CPP reaction to losing the elections as: "Remember Burma."
But with Prince Chakrapong taking the lead as the public head of the opposition movement,
it forced to the surface a long-standing bitter feud with his half brother Ranariddh
and a struggle within the Royal family and palace entourage on who to bestow support
Chakrapong, 47, a notoriously wealthy deputy prime minister in the State of Cambodia
government was in control of several lucrative portfolios including tourism, aviation,
and industry, has long been a thorn in his half brother's side.
Upon his successful electoral victory, Ranariddh immediately demanded that Chakrapong
be banished from any future political role.
"How can I work with Prince Chakrapong, who holds no other thought than to eliminate
or kill me?," Ranariddh asked last week.
Chakrapong was a military guerrilla commander, technically under Ranariddh's command,
fighting against the Vietnamese and the current government of which he is now a senior
official. In mid October 1991, only days before the formal signing of the Paris peace
accords, Chakrapong, after a final break in the long standing feud, attempted to
take his more than 1500 troops and defect to the Khmer Rouge, according to Ranariddh
and senior Khmer Rouge officials. After approaching Khmer Rouge commander Ta Mok
with his proposal and being rejected by the Khmer Rouge leadership, he appeared in
Phnom Penh the following week after negotiating his defection to the State of Cambodia.
The State of Cambodia, while wary of Chakrapong's reputation as a loose canon, accepted
him because it was thought it would give them leverage within the royal family, and
would be useful in elections where royalty is widely revered among the peasant masses.
In the wake of Ranariddh's election victory and before the secessionist putsch, palace
sources say that Sihanouk supported sending Chakrapong to Kuala Lumpur as the new
ambassador as a way to resolve the conflict. Chakrapong has developed close business
relationships with influential Malaysian finance, aviation, and other companies since
assuming his role with the CPP, according to CPP and other sources.
Observers here say that in the aftermath of the secessionist movement, deals will
be made to divide real power in an interim authority while the newly elected constituent
assembly drafts a constitution and creates a new government in three months as mandated
by the peace agreement.
On June 14, in the same national assembly building where Sihanouk's 1970 overthrow
was approved, the newly elected assembly convened and voted "unanimously and
on behalf of the Khmer people" to appoint Sihanouk back to the position he held
23 years ago. The assembly passed a resolution declaring "null and void the
illegal coup d'état of 18 March 1970" and vested "full and special
powers inherent in his capacity and duties as Head of State in order that he may
save our nation...".
Sihanouk, who is known to be fixated on officially avenging his overthrow, was said
to be deeply moved by the resolution, sent a handwritten note to the assembly members
calling the move "an historical event that has incomparable value for my life,
that restores my honour to the people and nation who I will serve until the end of
While UNTAC and diplomats could not figure out exactly what legal powers the assembly
had bestowed on Sihanouk, it was clear that the move helped to encourage peace and
stability in the coming weeks as behind the scenes deals, in which Sihanouk will
play the pivotal role, are cut for power sharing.
It is said that SOC Prime Minister Hun Sen may be dropped from a senior position
in an interim arrangement after objections by Ranariddh. Hun Sen's apparent declining
power within the CPP, and in the wake of his obstructionist role against the election
results alienated former allies.
Ranariddh accused Hun Sen of being "personally responsible for acts of killings
and violence" against FUNCINPEC during the run-up to elections and said he could
not work with him in the future.
CPP strongman Chea Sim last week proposed a power sharing arrangement with Ranariddh
that would make Sihanouk president, Ranariddh first prime minister and Chea Sim second
prime minister. The Chea Sim proposal made no mention of Hun Sen and was thought
to reflect a new CPP position that sacrificed Hun Sen.
At a meeting at the palace on June 15, Sihanouk proposed a power-sharing arrangement
between the CPP, FUNCINPEC, and the BLDP that was said to be as follows: Sihanouk
would assume the position of prime minister, with an equal role for Ranariddh and
the CPP as deputies.
This arrangement would also divide subordinate power among FUNCINPEC 45 percent,
CPP 45 percent and BLDP 10 percent. Other proposals included giving FUNCINCPEC the
defence portfolio, Son Sann the finance portfolio, and the interior/national security
portfolio to the CPP.
A constitutional drafting committee was proposed of six seats for FUNCINPEC, five
seats for the CPP, and one seat for the BLDP.
But it was cautioned that these are initial proposals and that it was unlikely that
FUNCINPEC would accept that they be given equal status with the CPP given that they
were the victors in the polling results.
The Post has learned that Ranariddh held private talks with Khmer Rouge President
Khieu Samphan on June 13 in which the Khmer Rouge for the first time laid out their
position on the post election period.
In an interview with Ranariddh on 14 June, he told the Post that "it was the
most concrete, specific meeting we have had. It was very, very good."
He quoted Samphan as saying "we will turn over our territory to your new legal
government," dropping their demands for a quadripartite formula coalition government.
He said the Khmer Rouge desired no senior positions or portfolios, and offered Ranariddh
their full support. Ranariddh said "we accept them as Cambodians and part of
the Cambodian nation.
He said that Khieu Samphan relayed that the Khmer Rouge required that the SOC accept
that FUNCINPEC won the elections and that FUNCINPEC have superior power in any new
government as a reflection of the polls. Khmer Rouge sources confirmed that they
supported Ranariddh assuming control over the key ministries of finance and defence
in a new government. It was said that FUNCINPEC will be willing to concede the interior
portfolio to the CPP.
Despite the tumultuous events of the last two weeks, which included secessionist
movements, failed provisional governments, the restoration of Sihanouk to his role
before a coup that ushered in 23 years of non-stop warfare and suffering that has
left millions dead, and royal drama befitting a B grade movie, analysts say the peace
process is basically back on track.
The electoral victors, FUNCINPEC, appears to be assuming their role as winners with
the weight of the international community and widespread popular support sustaining
them in the face of desperate attempts by other political forces to retain power
denied them by through an unfamiliar democratic process that has left many of them