Cambodia: Stalemate Suits Hun Sen


Dr Milton Osborne

With the Cambodian elections now a distant memory, there has, at the time of writing, been no resolution of the stalemate brought about by the refusal of FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy Party - the self-styled 'Alliance' - to join in a coalition with Hun Sen's CPP in order to bring about a situation in which a government can be voted in with the support of two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly.

As ever, in my recent visit to Phnom Penh, I found the rumour mills grinding busily with all manner of suggestions that there will be a resolution of the stalemate, most likely as a result of some members of FUNCINPEC splitting from the leadership in order to assume ministerial positions in a new government. So far this has not happened and there is certainly no suggestion that Sam Rainsy is ready to embark on any form of compromise with Hun Sen. Indeed, Rainsy's determination to pursue his own course is reflected in the fact that he is endeavouring to bring a court action against Hun Sen in relation to the grenade attacks that killed his supporters during a march in 1997.

While still holding together publicly, it is clear that there are serious tensions between some in FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy Party, with members of the former muttering darkly that Rainsy would be quite happy to poach members of the former into his own camp.

King Sihanouk has suggested that the current unsatisfactory situation should be resolved by holding new elections, but there is no sign that his proposal has been given serious consideration. As has been increasingly clear for some time, Sinhanouk's capacity to play an active role in Cambodian politics is now seriously limited.

None of this is proving an inconvenience to Hun Sen who, effectively, continues to govern unopposed and has said that he is prepared to do so in a caretaker capacity until 2008, if necessary. Of some interest is the fact that some FUNCINPEC members have given voice to their realisation that they have been effectively excluded from power since 1993 by the CPP's control over the key elements of both the civil and military administrations. In an aptly chosen description, the observation has been made that the CPP, and in particular Senior Minister Sok An, are like 'a Hindu god with 48 arms'. In short, there is no important branch of government or administration that is not controlled by the CPP.

Although there appears to have been some progress towards the eventual establishment of a Khmer Rouge (KR) tribunal, it would be a brave call to suggest that it will soon come into being and that trials of senior Khmer Rouge figures will actually take place. Contrary to public statements, everything suggests that Hun Sen is not anxious to see the tribunal established in the light of his own KR connections, plus those of many of his associates, while China does not wish its own role in the 1975-79 period to be subject to scrutiny. Khieu Samphan, one of the key figures who would be brought before the tribunal if it were constituted, has just published a book in which he denies having any knowledge of the killings that took place while Pol Pot was in power.

Cambodia's relations with foreign donors are complicated by the political stalemate, with some countries refusing to give aid while there is no resolution to the current standoff between the three parties. At the same time, when an Asian Development Bank (ADB) delegation visited Cambodia at the beginning of March its leader told the government that there is an urgent need for reform of the administration, the judiciary and fiscal management. If this is not done, Urooj Malak, the ADB country director said, access to loans is going to be more difficult. 'It's time to match deeds to words’, Malik said.

WATCHPOINT: Will the political stalemate be resolved by a defection of FUNCINPEC members to align themselves with the CPP?


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