Cambodia: The Situation Remains Unresolved


Tony Kevin

The post-election month in Cambodia has seen general international acceptance of the election result, but also turbulent street politics. Political normalisation now seems closer – but this may just be a false dawn. All international and Cambodian election observer groups produced positive assessments of the 28 July election, in which the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won a bare majority, 64 out of 122 seats. Two opposition parties won 58 seats - Funcinpec 43, Rainsy Party 15. A number of governments including Australia, France, Japan, China and ASEAN states called on all parties to support formation of a new government on the basis of the election result. The U.S. position remains more equivocal (see below). Overall, the anti-CPP bias in the international media has moderated, despite violent events in Cambodia. A few hours after the US observer group supported the election at its press conference on 28 August, Sam Rainsy embarked on a campaign of street politics to discredit the election. Prince Ranariddh soon joined him. A mass sit-in in a park close to the Parliament building quickly attracted several thousand supporters. This sit-in gathered momentum over the next two weeks. The mood of the crowd became bolder as they were not suppressed by police authorities. The protest took on a life of its own, with strong racist overtones. A large Cambodian-Vietnamese war memorial statue in the park was vandalised. A mood of anti-Vietnamese hysteria developed in parts of Phnom Penh. Several ethnic Vietnamese were beaten up and killed as stories circulated that Vietnamese were poisoning the food and water supply. Tensions increased: at a sit-in organised by Rainsy at the National Election Commission headquarters, a driver for a foreign TV crew was shot dead. Soon after, three grenades were thrown at Hun Sen’s town house. Hun Sen finally moved to close down the street demonstration. At the same time, CPP supporters trucked in large numbers of pro-CPP demonstrators. Several opposition supporters were killed in ensuing street violence. At this point – under pressure from the King and the international community – Ranariddh and Rainsy called off their street protest and agreed that their parties would take up their seats in Parliament. The new parliament met formally on 25 september in Siem Reap, but did not form a new government. Opposition leaders still refuse to support the formation of a new government without election concessions from Hun Sen. The constitution requires a 2/3 majority parliamentary vote; CPP is 18 votes short of this, and so must either form a coalition with the opposition, or at the minimum gain opposition consent to vote in a new CPP government. The opposition may as a tactic continue to block the formation of a new government. So Cambodia is not out of the woods yet. United States representatives stated in Canberra on 24 August that while the US supports the peaceful establishment of a new government in accord with the election results, it is still premature to discuss the issues of Cambodia's UN seat, or of releasing the US aid suspended in July 1997. The pro-opposition lobby in the U.S. remains active. So Rainsy and Ranariddh may yet stalemate CPP’s election victory for some time to come, while seeking a better post-election deal. Meanwhile, an impatient ASEAN is pressing Cambodia to get its house in order – as are most of Cambodia’s friends (France, China, Japan, Australia, the UN) and the international business community in Cambodia. Thailand’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sukhumband Paribatra has been pursuing energetic shuttle diplomacy with Phnom Penh.

WATCHPOINT: How long will Rainsy and Ranariddh hold out against mounting pressure on them for political normalisation ?


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