The political deadlock is officially over.
The National Assembly on Thursday morning elected a new government headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen through a show-of-hands vote, ending a stalemate dating to last year’s July 27 elections.
Hun Sen’s CPP will enter a third mandate with coalition partner Funcinpec and its president, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who kept his position as Assembly president.
The longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia, Hun Sen predicted a CPP-Funcinpec coalition for years to come.
“We must have a coalition government at least 20 or 30 years more,” he told reporters after the hourlong Assembly session.
The new government features one of the largest Cabinets in the world for a country this size, headed by seven deputy prime ministers, 15 senior ministers, and between five to seven secretaries of state in each of the government’s 26 ministries.
They face a backlog of legislation necessary to kick off a long-awaited Khmer Rouge tribunal and meet conditions for entry into the World Trade Organization. The stalemate had also caused donor countries and aid agencies to put some loans on hold.
The Assembly will convene again today for a swearing-in ceremony, followed by the first meeting of the new Council of Ministers.
Even as it hailed the deadlock’s end, the CPP battled reports of a schism in the party and the forced exile of party President Chea Sim. He was escorted to Bangkok on Tuesday morning by National Police Director General Hok Lundy—for health reasons, party officials say.
The presence of more than 100 police outside his compound and the bizarre circumstances of his departure on the day he was to seal the coalition’s power-sharing deal has sparked speculation that the party is split.
But reputed Chea Sim loyalists, including Interior Minister Sar Kheng, attended Thursday’s session and voted for the new Cabinet.
“The truth is what is happening here in the National Assembly,” Hun Sen said, denying the reports of a party divide.
Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh exchanged flowers several times at the Assembly meeting, which garnered standing applause from the 96 parliamentarians in attendance.
Absent were a few sick Assembly members and Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians who boycotted the session. Most of the opposition members went to Bangkok this week, saying they feared that Hun Sen would coerce them into attending the meeting.
The party said Thursday’s proceedings, based on a controversial “package vote” measure, are illegal. The package vote allows for the election of government and Assembly posts in a single vote, in contradiction with protocol outlined in the Constitution.
With the exception of Senator Ou Bunlong, expected to defect to the royalist camp, the opposition received no Cabinet or parliamentary leadership posts as promised through its now-lifeless alliance with Funcinpec.
King Norodom Sihanouk, who also has been critical of the government’s formation, wrote from self-exile in North Korea that he still intends to abdicate.
In reply to a letter regarding the new government’s legality, on Wednesday the King wrote, “I have no power or ability to change or help. I will accept the mistake if I have made the mistake.”
The King had pushed for a three-party meeting with Sam Rainsy in official talks last year at the Royal Palace.
A previously planned meeting between the King, Hun Sen, the prince and Chea Sim has been canceled, but Prince Ranariddh said Thursday he and Hun Sen had invited the King to return to Cambodia.
“The King said he would come back when the political deadlock is finished. I wrote to him that people miss him and ask that he come back soon,” the prince told reporters.
He also fended off claims by the opposition that he took money and gifts to join the government, including a newly acquired helicopter and small passenger jet.
“This is a successful day. What Prime Minister Hun Sen and I have done, it is not for personal gain. It is to serve the nation,” the prince said.
Added Hun Sen: “I would like to thank Prince Norodom Ranariddh who has worked very hard with me and the CPP to find a political solution to lead the National Assembly and government.”
The prime minister also boasted of maintaining relative peace in the country through the stalemate.
“After a deadlock of more than 11 months, we did not slip into a culture of violence like other countries have when they only have a deadlock of one or two weeks,” Hun Sen said.