Cambodia: Preoccupied with Politics

1998

Tony Kevin

While the rest of the region struggles to cope with the financial crisis and its political consequences, Cambodia's horizon has been dominated by the prospect of its second national election since the Indo-China war. Cambodia will probably have an election in July, and the Cambodian People's Party will probably win. Scheduled for 26 July 1998, this election (the first was supervised by the UN in 1993) will not involve an UNTAC regime this time. But the UN will coordinate foreign observer teams to monitor whether the election is free and fair. Hun Sen is mostly cooperating with the UN in this, because he desperately wants international approval. Hun Sen remains the strongman. The coalition government that he nominally shares with Ung Huot, the former Funcinpec Foreign Minister, firmly controls Cambodia. Since the July 1997 war, the situation in Cambodia has settled. Ranariddh remains in self-imposed exile, but most of his original supporters have now returned. Hun Sen agreed to a royal amnesty for Ranariddh but demanded that he first stand trial for provoking the July war. But Ranariddh has to date refused to return to Cambodia without guaranteed immunity from prosecution. The USA and ASEAN, which still view the July war as a coup staged by Hun Sen, are maintaining diplomatic and aid sanctions against Cambodia, as pressure on Hun Sen to agree to Ranariddh's free return to full political activity in Cambodia. Other donor governments (France, Japan, Australia) and UN agencies are working more pragmatically within the new political equation. Funcinpec has fallen apart, in seeking to reconcile loyalty to Ranariddh's leadership-in-exile with trying to rebuild a viable party within Cambodia. At the end of January, most of the leading Funcinpec politicians in Cambodia - including the President of the General Assembly Loy Sim Chheang, Ung Huot and two Ministers - left the party in despair, to set up two new parties. Even if Ranariddh now came back, he would not have much of a party left to lead. Since Sam Rainsy's bold return to Cambodia in November 1997, his Khmer Nation Party has gained ground as a credible opposition voice. Rainsy - because he is a symbol of democracy who commands international respect has leverage over Hun Sen. Hun Sen needs Rainsy's involvement if the international community is to fund the election and accept its outcome. Expect more cliffhanging dramas between Hun Sen, Ranariddh and Rainsy over the next few months. But at the end of the day the election will probably take place - and will be accepted by most international governments as reasonably free and fair. The prospects are that Hun Sen's large and disciplined CPP will easily win, given the disunity of the opposition.

WATCHPOINT: The consequences of these political developments for international business prospects in Cambodia.

 

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