Cambodia: A Coalition is Likely, but who will Lead?

1998

Tony Kevin

The election on 26 July went remarkably well, and it was one of which the Cambodian people can justly be proud. The focus shifts now to international assessments, which will heavily influence how the three leaders approach the challenging task of negotiating for a coalition government. On the voting results, Hun Sen should be the next Prime Minister. The atmosphere of the election was good; voters, officials and observers approached the task seriously and in a spirit of mutual respect; there were few election irregularities and nothing that suggested systematic fraud or intimidation by the Cambodian People's Party (CPP). On the basis of results so far counted, CPP should win over 60 seats in a 122-seat national assembly - better than in 1993. Its two main rivals, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, polled well but will not have sufficient seats between them for the two-thirds majority required under the constitution to form a new government. But nor will CPP - it will have to attract one or both of its rivals into coalition if it is to govern. The negotiations are likely to be lengthy and tense. Interventions from the outside, especially from the USA, are expected to be politically motivated. Twelve days before the election, an influential joint Democratic/Republican observer delegation labelled it as 'fundamentally flawed' because of pre-election intimidation of the opposition. And opposition parties are already preparing lists of alleged voting flaws. On the other hand the Joint International Observer Group (JIOG), which includes Australia and all major ASEAN and donor governments except the USA, assessed the election as free and fair - adding that efforts before the vote to intimidate sections of the population did not significantly influence the conduct of the polls. JIOG called on all parties to honour the election result without attempting to undermine its original outcome. But that JIOG hope is unlikely to be fulfilled. US Secretary of State Albright - under pressure from the strong stance of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) - urged ASEAN Foreign Ministers to 'keep the pressure on' for a democratic Cambodia. It's not clear from this whether she supports the more generous JIOG line or the harsher NDI/IRI judgement. Much hangs now on where US Government policy will come down; and on how much notice ASEAN will take of Mrs Albright's remarks. ASEAN Secretary-General Severino said on Saturday, the day before the vote, that ASEAN's decision on Cambodian membership would not be determined by Washington's views. And ASEAN government teams were pressing for a favourable JIOG report - which was achieved. But US government pressure on an economically weakened ASEAN may have more effect than in the past.

WATCHPOINT: Will Hun Sen have sufficient international legitimacy now to lead an effective government?

 

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