It is just one short sentence, but it is enough to shape the future government.
“The National Assembly shall pass a vote of confidence in the Royal Government by a two-thirds majority of all members.”
Article 90 of the Constitution means the July 26 elections will be only a prelude. After the campaign ends and votes are counted, the negotiations and dealmaking will begin, analysts agree.
With none of the three major parties expected to gain two-thirds of the 122 National Assembly seats, just about everyone assumes the next government will be another coalition. It might even look a great deal like the ultimately disastrous CPP-Funcinpec coalition formed in 1993 after the intervention of King Norodom Sihanouk and threats of secession by election losers.
“Everyone from the King on down believes there must be a coalition government,” said one Asian diplomat. “The question is, what will it look like?”
That will largely depend on the results of the vote.
Article 90 ensures that any political party that gains more than 33 percent of the vote will be a force to reckon with, since it would be able to block the confirmation vote.
The provision means that the powerful CPP, which has dominated the present coalition government since Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh was violently ousted last year, will not “lose” unless it fails to muster 41 seats. The CPP won 51 in 1993, coming in second to Funcinpec’s 58. The party is aiming to improve that showing this year.
“They are concerned at the moment. They are campaigning very actively,” the diplomat said.
“Fifty-one seats is a very important psychological benchmark” for the CPP, said analyst Lao Mong Hay, president of the Khmer Institute of Democracy. Anything less, some suggested, might be detrimental to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s now-dominant position in the party.
Another political observer, who asked not to be named, said, “No matter what the election result will be, it is guaranteed the CPP will be in the next government. That is a foregone conclusion.”
The best-case scenario for the CPP—short of getting two-thirds majority, which analysts say would look suspiciously like fraud in any case—would be to win the most seats of any party, giving it the right to name the prime minister, expected to be Hun Sen.
But unless any of the parties the CPP currently works with gets enough seats to make up the difference in a confirmation vote—an unlikely scenario, most say—the party will have to cut a deal with one of two parties that now vehemently opposes Hun Sen’s rule. That would not be as hard as it may sound, most say.
Whether the coalition partner will be Funcinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party is the other hotly debated subject. Each is likely to bring its own wish list to the table.
Since founding his party in 1995 after being expelled from Funcinpec and the National Assembly, Sam Rainsy’s popularity has been growing. But many believe his appeal is limited to the cities and towns and not enough for him to get more votes than the royalist Funcinpec, which won the 1993 polls and has again been appealing heavily to rural Cambodians’ love of the King, who founded Funcinpec in 1981.
“I think Funcinpec will still come up second,” said the Asian diplomat. That would leave the royalists in prime position to be invited into the government.
And that, he said, might suit CPP just fine. Despite the past acrimony between the CPP and Funcinpec—which erupted into last July’s bloody fighting—both parties would rather reunite than cut a deal with Sam Rainsy, the diplomat said.
The same would be true even if Funcinpec edged out the CPP again this year, he said. Incredible as it may sound to some—specifically to Sam Rainsy—many believe CPP and Funcinpec leaders would rather work together again than with Sam Rainsy.
“I believe they have cut a deal on this matter. It would basically be the same [as in 1993]—CPP, Funcinpec and some smaller parties,” the Asian diplomat said.
But how could Prince Ranariddh leave his coalition partner to work with Hun Sen, the man he now claims ousted him in a “bloody coup d’etat?” Simple, the diplomat said. “Funcinpec would rather come in for the money than have another civil war.”
At any rate, Funcinpec is now not in a position to prolong a civil war. Its forces are at the Thai border and reportedly running short on supplies and ammunition.
Funcinpec, if the junior partner, would likely seek some key ministries involving finance and foreign affairs, according to another Phnom Penh-based diplomat.
The prospect of Funcinpec ditching Sam Rainsy clearly worries those in the former finance minister’s camp. Assembly candidate Son Chhay said this week that if the National United Front allies stick together, it could force major concessions from the CPP.
“After the election, it will be a crucial time. Ranariddh could make another stupid decision that could be disastrous for all of us,” Son Chhay said this week.
One problematic scenario is if the Sam Rainsy Party surprises and wins a third or more of the seats. It’s considered a long shot, but if Sam Rainsy were to fare that well on July 26, then almost anything could happen, analysts and diplomats agree.
The problem is that the leadership of both the CPP and Funcinpec do not relish the idea of working with Sam Rainsy, they say.
“He is a wild card. He won’t listen. He is not a consensus kind of guy,” the Asian diplomat said.
Plus, Sam Rainsy might make some disturbing demands.
“Suppose the CPP needs the support of another partner to get two-thirds and the other partner does not agree to Hun Sen’s premiership?” Lao Mong Hay asked. “What happens then?”
With a well-armed bodyguard unit of more than 1,000 men, plus the support of powerful men such as National Police Director-General Hok Lundy, Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara, and Kandal Province First Deputy Governor Kun Kem, who maintain the loyalty of military and police units, Hun Sen may not be willing to be sidelined, even by his own party. And the idea of a power struggle within the CPP is disturbing to many.
But whether any leader would absolutely refuse to work with anyone is a big assumption.
“Now, the different party leaders are posturing in the campaign,” Lao Mong Hay said this week. “Their positions seem to be rigid at the moment.”
“But, you know…politicians change their minds,” he said. “That is politics the world over.”
This time, with one prime minister and CPP’s military dominance painfully established, a coalition government might be expected to be a bit more stable, said Kao Kim Hourn, president of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.
“I think we are going to move our fighting to the National Assembly,” Kao Kim Hourn said.
Lao Mong Hay puts it a different way. He says the field would be shifted to the negotiating table, dealmaking and intrigue—most of it behind closed doors. “We will return to political normality—by Cambodian standards.”