Hun Sen Expected To Become Sole PM
Senior members of Funcinpec and the CPP on Sunday said they had resolved the remaining question marks in the government Cabinet lineup, with the vote of confidence in the long-awaited government scheduled for today at the National Assembly.
A successful vote could bring legitimacy to the government for the first time in nearly 17 months after Second Prime Minister Hun Sen effectively ousted his coalition partner, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, as first prime minister in a July 1997’s decisive CPP military victory in Phnom Penh.
The Assembly is also expected to officially install Hun Sen as the nation’s sole prime minister.
A CPP spokesman, however, expressed concern Sunday that alleged Funcinpec infighting could threaten a successful vote- of-confidence ballot and opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Sunday that his party would oppose the vote—which needs two-thirds support to pass.
Riding on the approval of a government are the resumption of millions of dollars of international aid and loans and seats in the UN and Asean all of which Cambodia effectively lost or had postponed after the violent collapse of the coalition government last year.
Asean officials are indicating that Cambodia will be admitted to Asean during next month’s yearly summit of foreign ministers in Hanoi. (See page 10)
“My sense is that there is a big chance they will be admitted [to Asean] during the Hanoi summit,” a Phnom Penh-based diplomat said Sunday, citing a regional desire “to move forward.”
Other issues on today’s National Assembly agenda include approval of three new ministries and a 19-page government platform, party members said.
The National Assembly convened Wednesday as a result of a surprise King Norodom Sihanouk-chaired summit that broke more than three months of political stalemate between the CPP and Funcinpec following July’s elections. The two parties are set to try to cooperate again in coalition. Their first attempt at partnership ended in the mid-1997 street battles.
Today could mark the first time in several decades that a newly inaugurated government does not face a serious military threat lurking in the jungles, officials from both parties agreed.
“There is no civil war anymore. This is more of a peacetime government,” said Funcinpec spokesman Pok Than.
Asked if the relative peace bodes well for this government’s survival until the next national elections, scheduled for 2003, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said simply, “I hope so.”
However, opposition Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay warned that the coalition parties Funcinpec and the CPP must learn to keep the military out of political disputes.
“You know we’ve been through a terrible period…which does not give confidence to any parties that this government will work and that the fighting will never haunt us again,” Son Chhay said, noting that the much-maligned power-sharing system of co-ministers will again preside over Defense and Interior.
Funcinpec officials confirmed Sunday that incumbent Interior co-Minister You Hockry will continue in the post despite criticism of his performance and some party support for former Military Region 4 commander Khann Savoeun. Also, the party settled on former parliamentarian Chea Savoeun and current parliamentarian Khun Hang to take on Funcinpec’s portfolios in the Religion and Parliamentary Relations ministries. And the party decided on Ouk Vithun to assume the Ministry of Justice portfolio, beating out other aspirants to the post, party officials said.
Rounding out a CPP group that government insiders say is heavily weighted with Hun Sen loyalists, the CPP’s Cabinet chief, Ith Sam Heng, will also take on the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor portfolio.
The CPP on Saturday held a meeting in which party leaders “instructed” their 64 National Assembly members to vote for the new government, said party spokesman Khieu Kanharith.
Khieu Kanharith expressed confidence that the CPP parliamentarians would all vote in favor of approving the government. “But we are not sure about Funcinpec,” he said, explaining that his party is concerned that Funcinpec infighting over lucrative government posts could sink the vote.
According to Khieu Kanharith, about 20 Funcinpec members who are not likely to garner a government post are a threat to vote against the proposed government cabinet.
Last year, Funcinpec squabbling over Hun Sen’s proposed Cabinet reshuffle following the July fighting effectively sank the bid in the Assembly vote. Competition within Funcinpec for top government positions has been reported by diplomats, the Khmer-language press and government insiders.
Pok Than on Sunday asserted that the party line for all 43 Funcinpec parliamentarians is to support the vote. “I believe that they will vote along the party line to support the government,” he said.
Asked if his self-named opposition party would vote to support the government, Sam Rainsy replied, “Oh definitely not….If we support the government as it is presented we will betray the will of the voters.”
The two issues on which the Sam Rainsy Party intends to vote against the government are on uninvestigated election-related complaints and the lack of change between the last government and this one, Sam Rainsy said. However, Sam Rainsy said he expects the vote to pass.
The CPP has a simple majority of 64 parliamentarians and needs 19 more votes to reach two-thirds majority.
Spokesmen from both parties confirmed Sunday that they have completed lists of secretaries of state, expected to be approved as part of the government Cabinet today.
However, party officials either declined to release the list or said they did not have access to one.