F’pec, CPP OK Tentative Gov’t Deal

Prime Minister Hun Sen and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Monday agreed to form a new coalition government together, in which the CPP will allow Funcinpec to share some of its government positions with the Sam Rainsy Party.

Party officials announced the deal after a nearly four-hour-long tete-a-tete between Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh at the prince’s Kien Svay district residence in Kandal province—their first such meeting since before the July national elections.

Proclaiming an end to the eight-month-long political deadlock, senior Funcinpec officials Lu Laysreng and Serey Kosal emerged from the meeting Mon­day night, saying a new government of “two-and-a half” parties will now be formed.

“Regarding the composition of the new mandate of the royal government, Samdech Hun Sen, on behalf of the Cambodian People’s Party, agrees to give Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Rana­riddh the possibility to select the members, who are from the other party besides Funcinpec,” according to a statement, signed by both leaders and dated Monday.

The statement made no direct mention of the Sam Rainsy Party, which has been Funcinpec’s partner in the so-called Alliance of Democrats since shortly after the July 27, 2003, general elections.

Prak Sokhonn, deputy secretary-general for the government and a close aide to Hun Sen, was more cautious about declaring the deadlock resolved.

“This is a big step ahead,” Prak Sokhonn told reporters after the meeting, but he de­clined to explicitly state whether the new government would in fact consist of two or three parties.

He said both leaders had agreed to set up new working groups of the two parties “in the very near future,” which will discuss the leadership structure of the National Assembly and the government.

Working groups made up of all three parties were disbanded in December after negotiations yielded no results.

Reached by telephone Monday night and asked if the tentative agreement would be satisfactory to Sam Rainsy, Funcinpec Secretary-General Prince Noro­dom Sirivudh chuckled and said, “no comment.”

Contacted by telephone after the meeting, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he could not comment on the deal, saying he and his colleagues “have to check all the details, check whether they are definite” and “check with Prince Ranariddh.”

For months, opposition officials have insisted the Alliance has been unified in its demands for a three-party government.

Lu Laysreng  on Monday said he believed the future of the Alliance would not be jeopardized, however, as “inevitably, Sam Rainsy Party members are allowed to stay in the government.”

Earlier Monday, Prince Ranariddh had declined to answer reporters’ questions about whether the Sam Rainsy Party would be included in the next government Cabinet.

Upon his return from Singa­pore, where party officials said he went for a routine medical checkup, Prince Ranariddh told report­ers he and Hun Sen had arranged Monday’s meeting “in a brotherly manner, not in the name of the parties.”

“[Hun Sen] told me he would meet me as a younger brother, paying a courtesy call to the elder. At my house,” he said.

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Monday said Prince Ranariddh telephoned Hun Sen on Wednesday to set up their meeting.

Khieu Kanharith said Hun Sen agreed to meet only if the talks were based on the formation of a two-party government.

Political analysts on Monday night were hesitant to applaud the new agreement.

“It’s a good move, to start with a positive note. This is a big compromise for the CPP,” said Chea Vannath, president of the  Center for Social Development.

But, she said, a “two-and-a-half party” formula would be “a very strange status for the opposition.”

Meanwhile, Koul Panha, the director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said, “We encourage them to discuss about the platform” for the new government.

But, he said, if Funcinpec proceeds with a two-party government with the CPP, “They should really explain their decision to the public and the opposition party and consider the future of support for Funcinpec.”

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