Assembly Session Officially Ends Impasse

Prince Is President; Two VPs Are CPP

Amid tight security, the Na­tional Assembly convened Wed­nesday, electing Prince Nor­odom Ranariddh its president as ex­pected and officially ending four months of post-election tumult.

In a secret ballot observed by diplomats, democracy activists and journalists, the Funcinpec presi­dent was elected president by 105 of the 115 parliamentarians present. Seven Sam Rainsy Party members, including Sam Rainsy’s wife Tioulong Saumura, were out of the country.

Lawmakers applauded as soon as the prince secured the winning vote.

Af­ter the final count, CPP leader Hun Sen got up from his seat and, with a wide smile on his face, walked across the aisle to shake the prince’s hand.

Hun Sen, who is expected to be appointed prime minister by Monday, called the session “a victory for the nation” and a sign of “close cooperation between the [Cambodian] People’s Party and Funcinpec.”

Prince Ranariddh expressed gratitude to his fellow parliamentarians. “We…will make [this] parliament become a forum of free expression that specifically reflects the will of the Khmer

people and the nation,” he said.

A summit chaired by King Norodom Sihanouk two weeks ago resulted in a breakthrough in the tense and acrimonious political deadlock, paving the way for Wednesday’s parliamentary step in forming the new government. A CPP-Funcinpec deal had been struck making Hun Sen prime minister and Prince Ranariddh the Assembly president.

The pact also calls for a Senate to be created and headed by CPP President and former National Assembly President Chea Sim.

The CPP and Funcinpec now are scrambling to form the new coalition government in time for Cambodia to get accepted to Asean before year’s end. An internationally acceptable government also is critical for being readmitted into the UN and for receiving millions in additional foreign aid.

The two parties’ first attempt at a coalition government effectively ended in July 1997, when factional fighting erupted.

Also Wednesday, honorary CPP President Heng Samrin and outgoing Justice Minister Chem Snguon, also a CPP member, were selected first and second vice presidents of the Assembly.

Sam Rainsy, now the sole opposition leader in the parliament, nominated party members Son Chhay and Monh Siyonn to challenge Heng Samrin and Chem Snguon, respectively. But neither could muster more than eight votes each, presumably from their own party members.

“The votes that supported the president and both deputies showed clearly close cooperation between [Cambodian] People’s Party and Funcinpec,” Hun Sen said. “I think that today’s victory is the beginning, but a good beginning, for the good functioning of the Royal Government in this five-year term.”

Prince Ranariddh pledged to work hard to bring “our King­dom of Cambodia toward peace, national development and prosperity” as experienced in Ang­kor­ian times, considered by many as the country’s glory days.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was making his first appearance in the Assembly member since his expulsion from Funcin­pec and the Assembly in 1995, when he clashed with Prince Rana­riddh and Hun Sen over government corruption.

While Sam Rainsy has indicated a commitment to provide a strong opposition, he said it will be difficult considering Cambo­dia’s past.

“The fate of opposition is to be totally ignored or eliminated, there has been no tradition of op­position in the country,” he said at a break in Wednesday’s session.

Sam Rainsy parliamentarian Son Chhay said he feared the leaders of the new power-sharing government “will only be interested in power and money and will not solve social problems.”

He said the fact that Funcinpec and the CPP have agreed to share the ministries of Interior and Defense “shows their continued mistrust.”

But Lakhan Mehrotra, the UN secretary-general’s personal representative in Cambodia, said he detects a nation more at ease with itself. “My sincere hope is now conflict and violence will remain behind,” Mehrotra said. He said opposition parliamentarians should feel secure because of their immunity.

Diplomats and pro-democracy activists say the new coalition offers an opportunity for peace and stability during the next five years. But Cambodia has been through so much turbulence—including the street battles and dozens of extrajudicial killings last year—that caution abounds.

The Assembly is scheduled to meet again this morning to pick the chairs of the nine Assembly commissions. Prince Ranariddh said the parties already have ag­reed that Funcinpec chair the commissions on legislation, hu­man rights, foreign affairs and defense, and for public works and transport to be offered to the Sam Rainsy Party. That would leave the CPP with finance, social and women’s affairs, economics and environment, and education.

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