PM’s Rivals Set to Take Gov’t Posts

Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Sirivudh, Nhiek Bun Chhay and Khan Savoeun—three of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s fiercest rivals of old—are expected to take top government positions in the next mandate, officials said Tuesday.

According to royalist and CPP officials, Prince Sirivudh will assume the post of co-Interior Minister and former royalist RCAF general Nhiek Bun Chhay will be co-Defense Minister or the Senate’s vice president.

Khan Savoeun, a royalist RCAF general, will take a secretary of state post in the Interior Ministry, they said.

The appointees are among scores of new royalists and CPP members joining a much-enlarged Cabinet in the next mandate. Both parties are finalizing the allocation of government positions set forth in a power-sharing deal signed Friday by Hun Sen and Funcin­pec Presi­dent Prince Norodom Ran­ariddh.

The two leaders have hailed the deal as a breakthrough paving

the way for an imminent conclusion to a post-election impasse now dragging into its twelfth month. They are scheduled to meet today at the Senate and sign a comprehensive agreement of cooperation.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday the coalition deal will be officially closed before July 15.

“We are in the final stages,” said Hun Sen, speaking at a building inauguration ceremony at the Faculty of Law.

Officials close to Prince Siri­vudh, as well as CPP spokes­man Khieu Kanharith and Sam Rainsy Party officials, confirmed Tues­day that he will be nominated for the Interior Minister post.

Outgoing minister You Hockry, who for many has become emblematic of Funcinpec’s leadership woes, will be relegated to one of 10 so-called “senior minister” positions with no articulated responsibilities, they said.

Khieu Kanharith said Prince Sirivudh’s thorny past with the prime minister won’t affect his partnership with Sar Kheng.

“We know he is co-minister of Interior. He and Sar Kheng already understand each other and know about each other’s positions,” said Khieu Kanharith, who is expected to be promoted from the Information Ministry’s secretary of state to its minister.

He added that the CPP has not planned any drastic change in its Cabinet portfolio.

The new coalition formula is expected to look much as it did in the previous mandate, but Prince Ranariddh has pledged a shakeup in Funcinpec Cabinet personnel as well as the inclusion of officials from the Sam Rainsy Party.

The appointments of Funcin­pec Secretary-General Prince Sirivudh and the two former royalist commanders would signify a drastic change in the party’s representation in government and mark a new level of cooperation with the CPP.

All three men have bitter histories with Hun Sen. Prince Sirivudh was accused of plotting to kill the premier in 1995 and spent the next three years in exile.

The two others were Funcin­pec’s leading military strategists in the infighting of 1997. Nhiek Bun Chhay, in particular, built his political base in the Northwest on an image of strong resistance to Hun Sen and the CPP. The premier barred him from returning to the capital with the threat of arrest.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Nhiek Bun Chhay declined to discuss what position he might take in the next mandate but said he approved a Cabinet overhaul.

“We need to select the good officials who think of the nation, not the officials who give bribes and money for their high positions,” he said.

Today’s signing ceremony will mark the end of lengthy wrangling over power-sharing and a political platform, and the two parties will move on to face a final legal hurdle in legitimizing the “package vote”—a national precedent that conflicts with procedure outlined in the Constitution.

Originally opposed by Funcin­pec and the Sam Rainsy Party, the package deal will virtually ensure that Hun Sen will remain prime minister and that the prince will remain National Assembly president.

Hun Sen said Tuesday the National Assembly will convene July 8 and approve the package vote, then pass the measure to King Norodom Sihanouk for approval.

“By July 13, 14 or 15, we can form the new government and the National Assembly promptly,” he said.

The Constitution calls for the election of leaders in the National Assembly and the executive branch in separate parliamentary votes.

Sam Rainsy said this week he won’t agree to a package vote unless it receives the King’s approval and includes mention of policy reforms. Without those qualifications, he said, a package vote “would be a Constitutional coup,” he said.

The King, still in Pyongyang, North Korea, has not commented publicly on the recent development in political negotiations.

Sam Rainsy also said there is no firm plan yet for his party members to take positions in the next government under the “two-and-a-half” plan that allows Funcinpec to share its allocated posts with the Sam Rainsy Party.

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