Threatens to Arrest Opposition Figures
siem reap town – A confident Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, looking forward to the convening of the National Assembly but still lacking the votes to make him sole prime minister, warned his political opponents Wednesday not to even dream of a government he does not head.
“Don’t say anymore who will be prime minister. The prime minister is Hun Sen, Hun Sen, Hun Sen,” the CPP vice president told reporters after a morning visit to Angkor Wat, where the new National Assembly is to be ceremoniously sworn in today.
Hun Sen said he would remain in power for the next five years, whether or not Funcinpec joined the CPP in a new coalition government. He vowed military action against anyone who tries to dissolve the current government and he threatened the arrest of several political opponents, including Sam Rainsy.
“If [anyone tries] to dissolve the present government, there must be reaction from the military because this is a coup d’etat,” he said.
The current government’s five-year mandate expires today, but Hun Sen has said it will continue to function if the opposition continues to block the formation of a new government.
Hun Sen spoke a day after he and other CPP officials met with King Norodom Sihanouk and the presidents of Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party.
While leaders of the two opposition parties met through the morning Wednesday to plan for coalition talks set to start next week, Hun Sen took a trip to the historic Angkor temples. He appeared relaxed at his hotel later, joking with reporters that he had prayed for peace, national reconciliation and for “my wife to understand me.”
But he was less jovial when asked about the prospects for a new government. Though threats of arrest and the intervention of the King succeeded in convincing Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party to drop their plans to boycott the opening of the new Assembly, this week’s summit did not yield a quick deal for a coalition government, promising a lengthy round of negotiations.
The session with journalists—in which he answered questions in both Khmer and English—was later widely broadcast on private and state-owned television and radio stations.
Hun Sen hinted Wednesday that the arrests of several political opponents who do not have parliamentary immunity might be imminent. The threat of losing parliamentary immunity and possible arrest convinced opposition leaders to drop plans to boycott the Assembly, several of them have said. Those sworn in this morning will have five years of parliamentary immunity.
“Yesterday, I told [Sam Rainsy Party vice president] Kong Korm, ‘You do not have privilege, immunity. You can go first to the court,’” Hun Sen said.
He also mentioned outgoing National Assembly human rights commission chairman Kem Sokha as one of the leaders of this month’s street protests who might be arrested, implying for charges including incitement of violence. “He finishes immunity tomorrow. They can go to the court.”
And though parliamentarians have immunity under the Constitution, Hun Sen was quick to point out that immunity can be removed by a vote of parliament if a lawmaker is charged with a crime, as happened with Funcinpec foreign minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh.
“This is not politics. This is about penal crime,” he added.
“It is in the hands of the prosecutor, including [the case of] Sam Rainsy,” he said. But, Hun Sen added, he could not be accused of persecuting his enemies because the courts are neutral.
“This is the problem of the court and the procedures of the National Assembly,” he said.
Although the CPP won a majority of seats in the new parliament, it needs a two-thirds majority vote to confirm a new government. And so far, Funcinpec has stuck with its pre-election ally Sam Rainsy in refusing to confirm a government unless demands for reform are met.
Blocking a new government denies Hun Sen two things: the title of sole prime minister—he now nominally shares power with First Prime Minister Ung Huot—and legitimacy in the eyes of the world community.
On Wednesday, Funcinpec did not seem any more ready to compromise than before. Newly elected Funcinpec parliamentarian Lu Laysreng said that even though CPP won a psychological victory in getting opposition lawmakers to agree to attend today’s ceremonial opening of parliament, the royalist party does not plan to simply roll over for Hun Sen—it plans to use its 42 votes in parliament to its advantage.
“Obviously, we still have a very important voice,” Lu Laysreng said. “The CPP cannot do anything without our party. The CPP knows this. We know.”
Tri-party meetings are set to begin Tuesday, Lu Laysreng said. One of the major demands is for a Funcinpec member to be president of the National Assembly, a post now held by CPP President Chea Sim.
“Our stand is that in 1993 the CPP lost the elections but we provided the National Assembly chairmanship to Samdech Chea Sim,” Lu Laysreng said. “I think Funcinpec now asks for the [Assembly] chairmanship and the government is up to the CPP.”
Hun Sen said Wednesday that he would be happy to form a coalition with Funcinpec, but also said that the CPP wants Chea Sim to remain Assembly president. The position is powerful both because the president has the power to put legislation on the agenda and because he is acting head of state when the King is out of the country.
Hun Sen also said he was not too worried because if no government is formed he would remain in power with Ung Huot, who replaced Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh as first prime minister after the prince was effectively ousted amid factional fighting last year.
“We can discuss, discuss, discuss,” Hun Sen said. “But I can wait one month, two months… one year, two years, three years or five years because our government continues.”
Still, he seemed frustrated at the opposition’s recalcitrance.
Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party have contended, however, that combined they got nearly 60 percent of the popular vote. They have complained that an inequitable seat-allocation formula, which they say was illegally adopted, robbed them of several seats in the Assembly. And they say they have every right to make demands to approve a new government. Opposition officials previously demanded the CPP submit another candidate than Hun Sen for prime minister.
However, Hun Sen said he brought up the subject at Tuesday’s meeting with the King and his political opponents.
“I warned the meeting yesterday, don’t dream the CPP will change its candidate for prime minister,” he said. “The people voted for the CPP and Hun Sen. Hun Sen and the CPP are the same.”