Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh put nearly a year of wrangling behind them Wednesday to sign a new coalition agreement and take another step toward ending an 11-month political deadlock.
The short ceremony at the Senate, witnessed by the leadership of the CPP, Funcinpec and Phnom Penh’s diplomatic corps, cemented an agreement reached Friday to split power and accommodate both parties’ members with more than 160 new Cabinet positions.
After a champagne toast, Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh hailed the signing ceremony as a historic event and expressed optimism about a third coalition mandate.
“This marks the historical solution that the King, Queen and international community needs. This is what is really in Cambodia’s interest,” Hun Sen told reporters.
“I hope that if the government can be formed in early or late July then the King will return” from North Korea to inaugurate the government, the premier said.
The signing ceremony was not open to local reporters, who were forced to watch the proceedings outside via a closed-circuit television broadcast.
It produced several scenes indicating that bad feelings from 11 months of wrestling for government spots were at least temporarily behind the country’s leaders. Cabinet Minister Sok An could be seen speaking closely into Prince Ranariddh’s ear, shortly after royalist Lu Laysreng gulped champagne and shared a joke with Hun Sen.
“It’s about time,” said You Hockry, who has served as Funcinpec’s co-minister of the interior in the last two mandates.
The formal agreement expanded on the Cabinet expansion endorsed in last week’s powersharing deal, which added two additional deputy governor positions to the customary three in each province and district. Those positions will be split evenly nationwide between the CPP and Funcinpec.
It also included commitments to several measures desired by the opposition, including reform of the National Election Committee and the creation of an independent institution to monitor corruption.
In addition, a joint CPP-Funcinpec committee will address any problems that arise between the two parties.
No Sam Rainsy Party members attended the ceremony, but the party underscored its ties to the royalists in a statement from the Alliance of Democrats approving of the new coalition.
“It is symbolic,” Sam Rainsy later said of the statement. “This is a triangular relationship.”
Neither the CPP nor Funcinpec have announced their Cabinet portfolios, and a Funcinpec official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was too early to know how the party’s newfound wealth of positions would be distributed.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith also said that the ruling party’s portfolio was not finalized.
Both parties are looking ahead to a package vote to elect parliamentary and executive leaders in a single ballot-a precedent that contradicts procedure outlined in the Constitution and has in the past been opposed by Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy.
The Constitution calls for two separate votes on leadership in the Assembly and government, but a package vote virtually ensures that Hun Sen will remain premier and the prince will return as Assembly president.
Claude Gour, a French lawyer and longtime associate of Prince Ranariddh, recently replied to government leaders’ requests for counsel on the package vote, saying it was possible in a “state of necessity” such as the current deadlock.
Gour wrote that while a package vote was not strictly Constitutional, it could be implemented by appealing to King Norodom Sihanouk for his approval or the more lengthy process of a Constitutional amendment.
Nodding to the legal difficulties inherent in either solution, he concluded emphatically that the package vote is in the national interest.
“Constitutional history teaches us that often institutional deadlocks lead to coups d’état…. Is this the solution proposed by those who would like to persist in the paralysis of national life in the name of a few laughable formal legal arguments?” Gour wrote.
However, government lawyer Heng Vong Bunchhat said Tuesday it was still unclear how the vote will proceed.
“There is a third scenario about the package vote, which people can only know on the day of election,” he said. “No one knows really, not even me.”
But the Funcinpec official said it could be a major stumbling block in the rush to form a new government.
“Regardless of how you do it, it’s a rape” of the Constitution, the official said. “You can rape it nicely, or you can rape it violently.”