After 11 months of political stalemate the CPP and Funcinpec agreed this weekend to form a coalition government that took three minister positions from the royalist party and has inflated the new government’s size substantially.
The joint agreement, signed Friday by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, puts the country’s top ministries in the CPP’s hands and signals an imminent end to the 11-months deadlock.
The long-awaited agreement also represents a major test for an ailing Funcinpec and its tenuous alliance with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party. The new powersharing deal also failed to deliver key demands repeatedly voiced by Funcinpec Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh for royalist control over several key ministries.
Instead, Funcinpec will forfeit control of the ministries of Justice, Information and General Inspection and will gain no additional ministries. But in apparent consolation, the agreement calls for the creation of dozens more sub-minister positions to be filled by Funcinpec officials.
The agreement calls for an increase from two deputy prime ministers to five deputy prime ministers, and from two secretaries of state in each of the 25 ministries to five secretaries of state in each.
The Finance Ministry, an exception, will have six secretaries of state.
In addition, each ministry will now also have five undersecretaries of state. The ministries of Defense and Interior will retain two co-minister positions.
Other pre-agreement demands by the royalists, including the creation of an Immigration Ministry, were also ignored.
“Everything belongs to the CPP now,” one Funcinpec senator said Sunday.
Prince Sirivudh, Funcinpec’s leading negotiator over the past 11 months, declined to take phone calls seeking comment Saturday night and Sunday.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that officials from the CPP and Funcinpec will sign an agreement of cooperation this week before the National Assembly convenes to pass legislation enabling a “package vote” of leadership positions in both parliament and the executive branch.
The vote is expected to give Hun Sen his third straight mandate as Cambodia’s prime minister and also allow Prince Ranariddh to retain his post as National Assembly president.
Khieu Kanharith said he expects a new government to be formed in about two weeks, when parliament will meet for the first time in more than a year to face a growing backlog of urgent legislation, including laws necessary to establish a long-awaited Khmer Rouge tribunal and Cambodia’s entry to the World Trade Organization.
The weekend’s unexpected breakthrough as Sam Rainsy and some royalists publicly bemoaned the impasse and appealed for the guidance of King Norodom Sihanouk, who has been sidelined from political talks and remains in self-exile in North Korea.
Khieu Kanharith acknowledged that the agreement was created out of “quiet talks” between the party leaders and their advisers, not the series of publicized meetings between the parties’ working groups.
Mostly absent during the deadlock, Prince Ranariddh has called for a speedy resolution since meeting with the prime minister early this month.
“A power-sharing agreement needs powerful decision makers,” Khieu Kanharith said. “You can’t have a stalemate for one year.”
The agreement will likely disappoint a faction of royalists who, through the Alliance of Democrats, have forged close ties to opposition leader Sam Rainsy and fostered a disdain for Funcinpec’s cooperation with the CPP.
Increasingly viewed as weak and quick to bow to CPP demands, Funcinpec has steadily declined in popularity since the country’s 1993 elections. Last year the royalists lost 17 parliamentary seats and received fewer votes overall than the opposition.
Kem Sokha, a former Funcinpec senator and current director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, criticized the agreement Sunday for creating unnecessary new positions to accommodate egos and profit-seekers.
“This will cost a lot of money. They create these positions just to share them,” Kem Sokha said.
Neither Funcinpec nor the CPP has announced its candidates for the new positions.
The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is a new ministry formed from parts of the Ministries of Women’s Affairs and Social Affairs.
Sam Rainsy, who was attending meetings in Bangkok when the parties announced the agreement, said Sunday that it was in line with a previous pledge of cooperation between Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh at their meeting March 15.
The opposition leader also cautioned that the stalemate was not over and would require the passage of the package vote law—a measure that he and many legal experts have opposed as unconstitutional.
“There is no guarantee that the package vote can be conducted by the Constitution, or if the King will approve,” Sam Rainsy said.
It remains unclear how many positions the opposition party could gain through the new agreement.
A “two-and-a-half” formula agreed upon in March allows Funcinpec to hand over government positions to its Alliance partner.
Many within the royalist party, as well as outside observers, see close cooperation with Sam Rainsy as the party’s only chance of survival.
But Kem Sokha charged that Prince Ranariddh kowtowed to CPP pressure, and that Sam Rainsy could only lose face by allowing his party to join the government under Funcinpec’s increasingly weakened umbrella.
“Join the government for what? To change the country? You cannot,” Kem Sokha said.
Many in the royalist party acknowledge that the agreement could be unpopular.
“There is no choice…. It has been a long time already,” said Lu Laysreng, the outgoing Minister of Information. “Some people don’t like it, but in this political situation, we need a government.”
Despite the misgivings of some royalists, others said they were content to be moving forward and into a new government.
Former royalist military commanders Nhiek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal both said they support the prince’s decision. Together the men approached Hun Sen in December about forming a two-party coalition government with Funcinpec.
“Although Prince Ranariddh cannot satisfy some politicians’ wants, this is the solution to find a way out of the deadlock. This decision is the correct one,” Serey Kosal said.