Ballot-Box Fears Bring Back Memories of 1993

After surprisingly peaceful polling days in 1993, scattered violence and intimidation erupted as the CPP refused to recognize the results. 

With just two days to go to this year’s election, some are worried history could repeat itself. Such fear caused Cambodians last week to start hoarding supplies.

“If the CPP is happy with the results, no problem,” one West­ern rights worker said Thursday. “They have the only guns in town.”

Military analysts and diplomats agree that with the resistance backed against the Thai border, the only real military threat is within the CPP itself.

The worst-case scenario, they say, is if the CPP splits after losing the election or after failing to win enough seats to keep all of its power brokers happy.

But what about a more likely scenario—that the CPP must form a coalition with either Fun­cinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party?

The party that wins the most National Assembly seats has the right to name the prime minister, presumably Hun Sen.

Unless the CPP (and its allies) win a two-thirds parliamentary majority, however, a coalition deal must be cut.

With or without election fraud, many think it’s unlikely that the CPP and its allies will muster that two-thirds majority. That means the CPP could face losing some of the power it gained after the factional fighting of July 1997.

According to Article 90 of the Constitution, any political party with more than 33 percent of the vote can block the confirmation vote.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh reiterated on Thursday evening that he would not enter into a coalition government with Hun Sen.

“I think that I already clearly said I cannot work with Hun Sen, and Hun Sen has said he could not work with me,” Prince Ran­ariddh told reporters at Fun­cinpec headquarters.

Sam Rainsy also said this week that it would be very hard for him to work with either the prince or Hun Sen—but especially Hun Sen—unless they change their approach, methods and leadership style.

“I have identified good people [in both parties] that I can work with,” Sam Rainsy said.

Despite these threats to try to cut Hun Sen out of the government, analysts don’t believe that such a scenario would lead to rampant violence. But it could result in tension and scattered incidents while the coalition sorts itself out.

Ultimately, “I’d like to believe there’s too much at stake now [in terms of international acceptance] and there won’t be those big problems,” said one military analyst. “There will always be minor problems—the center can’t control the extremities.”

At stake is millions of dollars of international aid and seats in the UN and Asean.

Many believe that Prince Rana­riddh eventually will cave in to the de­sires of the CPP, so he can share in the wealth. Some expect a coalition with Hun Sen as the sole prime minister and someone in Funcinpec other than the prince as a deputy premier.

Analysts agree that the worst-case scenario is if the CPP loses.

Such happened in 1993, and in the weeks following, CPP thugs were blamed for smashing Fun­cinpec offices, and threatening, beating and even murdering other party members in efforts to maintain power.

Hun Sen has said that if the CPP loses, he would hand over power gracefully.

You Hockry, co-Minister of Interior (Fun), said last week that one has to take Hun Sen at his word. “But I still wonder,” he added.

Analysts say that with the resistance at a much weaker state than in July 1997, Funcinpec could offer little fight if Hun Sen decided to retain power.

What Hun Sen clearly would be risking then is the international aid that Cambodia has come to rely upon. Last year, international aid accounted for more than 40 percent of the national budget.

“What Hun Sen clearly wants is to gain the prize he’s never had—being a legitimate ruler,” a West­ern political analyst said this week. “But he is willing to give up that prize if he must to stay in power.”

In the case of a CPP loss, the biggest threat to security, analysts and rights workers agree, is if the CPP splits.

A CPP implosion has been rumored for years. Although all analysts interviewed agreed that it is an extremely unlikely scenario, it would be devastating.

Such a split likely would lead to a bloody war involving the police and military.

The international community, they agree, would do everything to prevent it from happening.

(Additional reporting by Chris Decherd and Saing Soenthrith)

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