Opposition Unity May be Greatest Barter Chip

Despite increasing international pressure to quickly form a new coalition government, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party continue to appear poised for a protracted battle with the ruling CPP.

Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy seem united at least for now in their demand that Hun Sen not be named prime minister of the new government. Sam Rainsy is turning up the heat with a public demonstration planned for Sun­day in Phnom Penh.

“It’s going to be a tough negotiation process,” a government ad­viser predicted. “The opposition is not interested in gaining portfolios or ministries. They really don’t want to work with Hun Sen…. They know he will concede a few things during talks, but then everything will go back under the control of Hun Sen. They learned from the last government.”

Leading CPP officials have said the opposition calls to dislodge Hun Sen from the top of the government are ludicrous.

It’s unclear how long Funcin­pec and Sam Rainsy can stay united, and whether their clout will matter in the end. Sam Rainsy, as evidenced by the rally plans, is the more militant force but is in a weaker bargaining position be­cause of his third-place finish.

“I think it will drag on for some time,” Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Insti­tute for Cooperation and Peace, said of the negotiations.

As with any high-stakes negotiations, initial demands often are mere bargaining chips. A party also may demand something that it doesn’t truly covet or knows it won’t get, but is worth something in trade.

“It’s basically posturing at this moment,” said an Asian diplomat. “It all depends very much on a compromise.”

But others say Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy are serious and, in fact, may be overextending the point, given the stakes involved.

“They’re pushing too hard,” a senior Asian diplomat said Wed­nesday. “It may come to a stage where they find themselves at a real deadlock, with no prospect for a coalition. This could be dangerous.”

At risk, and what the international community is pressuring Cambodia to avoid, is a constitutional crisis that leaves the nation with no lawful government when the current one expires Sept 23.

Asean already has warned that delays in forming a legal government may be interpreted as an inability to govern and affect Cambodia’s entry into the regional grouping. The resumption of millions of dollars of international aid and Cambodia’s UN seat also could be in jeopardy.

The government adviser, who spoke on the condition of ano­nymity, maintained that a primary goal of the opposition is to force all parties to take a deadlocked negotiation process to King Noro­dom Sihanouk to hammer out a solution.

The King has offered to mediate the potential crisis, and diplomatic sources say they have heard that a meeting with party representatives could occur Sept 3 in Siem Reap.

For now, coalition negotiations are being held up by the lack of final election results, unresolved claims of election fraud, and the row over the system to allocate seats in the National Assembly.

But the French, Thai and Phil­ippine governments especially are pushing for a resolution de­spite the fact that the Consti­tutional Council still is reviewing election complaints. Final election results are scheduled to become official Aug 29.

Although the CPP won the most seats in the July 26 election, it did not win the two-thirds necessary to form a legal government on its own.

For its part, the CPP already has said it will continue running the present government if a coalition isn’t formed. But analysts and diplomats said this week that such a government would likely not be greeted by legitimacy and a resumption of foreign aid from the international community.

CPP officials interviewed this week didn’t seem overly impatient or worried by the lack of progress in negotiations.

Mistrust exists within both Funcinpec and the CPP and each will attempt to gain negotiating leverage by exploiting real or perceived splits within the ranks of their adversaries, diplomats and political observers said.

The government adviser said the opposition knows which CPP members it wants to work with and which ones it doesn’t.

“They’re going to discuss [the new government] name by name,” he said, indicating that if Hun Sen doesn’t go as prime minister, another big CPP name may have to be sacrificed in his stead. “This could ignite anything.”

The senior Asian diplomat suggested the recent resignation of Cham Prasidh from the CPP central committee and as commerce minister indicates stress building within the party. Cham Prasidh resigned after finding out he had little chance of becoming finance minister, a post he desired.

“It was very unusual on both sides,” he said. “His resignation was apparently accepted immediately. Tempers must have really flared on this one.”

For Funcinpec, Prince Rana­riddh is uncertain who he can trust in his party, diplomats said, noting that will hurt the opposition during negotiations. Mem­bers of both Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party could be lured by cash incentives offered by CPP operatives, diplomats said.

Regardless, informal meetings between Funcinpec and CPP senior officials have taken place, diplomats said.

Khieu Kanharith, CPP spokes­man, confirmed a negotiations committee had been formed, which is said to be headed by Sok An, co-minister of the Council of Ministers. But Prak Sokhonn, an adviser to Hun Sen, said that actual negotiations probably wouldn’t start until after the final election results are announced.

Tol Lah, Funcinpec’s secretary-general, maintained Thursday that Funcinpec hasn’t held any negotiations with the CPP.

The CPP has floated the possibility of a 60-40 power-sharing arrangement with Funcinpec or a 60-30-10 if a coalition also were to include Sam Rainsy.

In sum, diplomats say Funcin­pec intends to use whatever ad­vantage it can to gain an equitable share in the new government.

“They don’t want a repeat of 1993,” an Asian diplomat said, referring to a coalition that on the surface was a power-sharing arrangement but in fact was controlled by the CPP and deteriorated into bloody fighting last year.

For instance, if the CPP insists on retaining the Finance and Defense ministries, Funcinpec may insist on Justice and the National Assembly presidency.

Shortly after meeting with the King earlier this month, Hun Sen said the CPP wanted Finance, Interior, Justice, Foreign Affairs and Defense.

But ultimately, the question is whether the CPP and Funcinpec can agree on a power-sharing arrangement that will be an improvement over 1993.

“The most important thing is that there is mutual trust on both sides,” one Asean diplomat said.

And does he think that’s possible?

He just laughed. “I don’t know.”

(Additional reporting by Touch Rotha and Kay Johnson)

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