PM Fires F’pec Co-Ministers of Interior, Defense

Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed Funcinpec’s co-ministers of defense and interior in a surprise move on Thursday, before inviting royalist officials who wish to join the CPP to do so.

The removal of co-Minister of De­fense Nhiek Bun Chhay and co-Minister of Interior Prince Nor­o­dom Sirivudh effectively canceled a quota system of partisan ap­pointments that CPP and Fun­cinpec officials have maintained since their first coalition government in 1993.

“I told Samdech Sirivudh and His Excellency Nhiek Bun Chhay that both of you are removed from the interior and defense ministries, but you remain holding deputy prime minister positions,” Hun Sen told reporters at Government Pa­lace near Wat Phnom, after a speech at the Consultative Group do­nor meeting.

“From this hour, there are no Fun­cinpec or CPP officials, police and soldiers. They only belong to the Royal Government,” Hun Sen said. “From this hour, there will be a 100-percent government quota.”

Though the move appeared to violate the CPP’s 2004 coalition agreement with Funcinpec that ended the nearly yearlong political deadlock following the 2003 election, Hun Sen warned Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ran­a­riddh that withdrawing from the gov­ernment would be unwise.

“If [the Prince] withdraws from the government…some Funcinpec of­ficials will follow [him], some will stay with the government,” Hun Sen said. “I would like to an­nounce that any Funcinpec officials that like to join with CPP, all are welcome.”

Nhiek Bun Chhay, who with other senior Funcinpec officials stood behind Hun Sen as he an­nounced the removals, said that he supported his sacking, adding that it will promote more efficient gov­ernance.

“I am happy to accept this little re­form, aimed to improve working requirements in government,” he said afterward, adding that he did not believe Prince Ranariddh would break away from the coalition.

Noranarith Anandayath, Prince Ran­ariddh’s cabinet chief, said that while Hun Sen has a right to re­form the government, the 2004 agreement is now on shaky ground.“The partnership and co­op­­eration are still going on as normal. The prime minister has a right to do his business, but the pro­tocol is a different thing,” Nor­anarith Anandayath said.

“We may review the protocol, whether it is still valid, or it has been amended or cancelled,” he said.

The move shows that the constitutional amendment passed the same day at the National As­sem­bly to reduce the amount of lawmakers needed to form a government is already undermining Fun­cinpec’s power, royalist lawmaker Monh Sophan said.

“From the constitutional amendment of [the electoral] system, Fun­cinpec is losing its influencing voice. They no longer need the Fun­­cinpec voice,” he said.

“Even if they do not honor their promises as in the protocol, they can do that, because they have le­gitimacy now. The agreement be­tween the two parties is not a law that everyone lives up to,” he said.

But he added that Funcinpec will do its best to serve its members. “We lose the partnership, but Funcinpec still functions,” Monh Sophan said.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann said Funcinpec’s fu-ture now looks bleak. “I think Fun­cinpec may split,” he said.

“They never used to be in the op­­position. When they become the opposition party, they [will] not get used to it…. Even if they are in the government, they don’t do too much and they don’t care about the grassroots. Now, they have no money, they have no power—how can they strengthen their party?”

Opposition party member Mu Sochua, former Funcinpec minister of women’s affairs, said a coalition based on deal-making had been bound to collapse.

“The partnership with CPP and Fun­­cinpec could not work be­cause [it was based on] the deals that were made, mainly for positions,” Mu Sochua said.

“That was why I left Funcinpec. If the country is going to be run this way, by political quotas, by making deals for party members, it hurts the country.”

The co-minister positions were part of such negotiations, first created in 1993 to balance the powers of fighting factions following decades of civil war, Committee for Free and Fair Elections Direc­tor Koul Panha said.

But even though terminating the two ministerial positions puts both the police and the military firmly under CPP control, he said there would likely be little change, as the Funcinpec co-ministers held virtually no power anyway.

“The power over the military and police is held by Hun Sen already. Even if we change ministers, it is no different,” Koul Panha said. Hun Sen’s actions merely highlighted Funcinpec’s ineffectual role in what was already a “show coalition,” he said.

Some politicians speculated that a deal may have been struck be­tween Hun Sen and Prince Ran­a­riddh prior to Thursday’s sudden an­nouncement.

Funcinpec Senator Prince Sis­owath Sirirath and CPP lawmaker and stalwart Sim Ka both speculated that the two leaders must have discussed the decision—which ap­pears for now to be limited to the two co-ministers—in advance.

In his speech, Hun Sen said a re­shuffle would not extend to Fun­cinpec secretaries or undersecre­tar­ies of state, but added that re­dundant appointees would be sacked and under-qualified officials would be sent back to school.

He also said that any possible part­nership with Sam Rainsy Party would remain on hold until after the 2008 elections.

Mu Sochua said that the opposition—which first proposed the con­stitutional amendment—would not be daunted by Hun Sen’s new powers.

“If a party is not confident, then you can walk with only one limb. We want to walk with both limbs. It is a challenge, but it is a healthy challenge,” she said.

(By Kay Kimsong, Lor Chandara and Samantha Melamed)


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