Cambodia Endless Power StruggleMay 1997
In April, Cambodian Traditional New Year, fifty police men sent by the Second Prime Minister Hun Sen were standing strict guard in Phnom Penh Airport and four tanks were on the ready at the guard headquarters only one kilometer away from the airport by order of the First Prime Minister Ranariddh, because Sirivudh, a half brother of King Sihanouk, notified of his return from France, where he lived in exile.
Sirivudh had been a foreign minister and secretary-general of the FUNCINPEC Party, which was led by the First Prime Minister Ranariddh until two years ago, but he was arrested on suspicion of having a hand in a plot to assassinate Hun Sen. After that King Sihanouk let him go abroad on condition that he would never take part in politics, but Sirivudh kept criticizing the Cambodian government in France. King Sihanouk broke off relations with him, and Sirivudh was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in his absence.
The Financial Economic Minister Sam Ransy of the FUNCINPEC party, who also denounced the corruption of the government, was avoided not only from Hun Sen but also from Ranariddh and he had lost his position five months before the plot to assassinate Hun Sen was disclosed.
Hun Sen has controlled the army, police and bureaucracy continently from the former Phnom Penh regime, and through these circumstances, power has more centralized in Hun Sen and the FUNCINPEC party has been practically reduced to the position of an opposition party, although it was the leading party at the last election.
Ranariddh declared in March last year that he would resign from the coalition government, but he called on the anti-Hun Sen parties to join forces for the coming general election which was scheduled to be held in 1997, and set up the National United Front with the FUNCINPEC party as leader together with the opposition parties such as the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party and the Khmer National Party at the end of February this year. In rivalry with this, Hun Sen’s party united with the Intelligence Minister Ieng Mouly faction, which left the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, the former Transport and Communication Minister Unpan faction, which rose in revolt against the FUNCINPEC party, and other ten parties.
Sirivudh’s plan to return to the country in such state of antagonism clinched the rupture between the prime ministers. Ranariddh said at the party convention in March this year, “Sirivudh is still our member and we believe him to be righteous,” and proposed to present a petition to King for amnesty and retrial in Sirivudh’s behalf. On the other hand, Hun Sen declared, “If the FUNCINPEC supports Sirivudh, we may come into an armed conflict with them.” Sirivudh came to Hong Kong to return home, but he was refused to get on a plane for Phnom Penn at the Hong Kong airport by Dragon Airline by reason of other passengers’ security, so he went back to Germany.
King Sihanouk, 74, sent letters to them from Beijing, where he was staying to undergo an operation on his eyes for cataract. He wrote to Hun Sen, “I will not grant Sirivudh an amnesty, but if both of you solve this problem by force, I will renounce the throne,” playing his trump card; to his son Ranariddh, “I will not have Hun Sen for an enemy on this matter.” He said, “My successor will be chosen by me or by majority vote of the committee of succession to the throne,” but he prefers hereditary succession that will not be affected by any opinion to the election system that is prescribed by the present constitution. I think the King made these statements to keep the balance of both of them with the same intention of avoiding bloodshed as he proposed the two-premiership system when the Peoples Party of Hun Sen became the second party as the result of the last general election.
Most of people think that Hun Sen wants to set Ranariddh up as a king to establish his own dictatorship. Actually Hun Sen said, “Prince shouldn’t take part in politics without having his name removed from the Royal family register. If he is involved in politics, the Royal House of this country will cease to exist. Hun Sen takes King Sihanouk’s hint of abdication as a tactics to give an advantage to the royalist FUNCINPEC party in the coming general election. He argued, “If King should abdicate the throne or die during the election, the election will be canceled on the spot, and we must, first of all, decide between monarchy and republicanism. In the present circumstances, a new king will not be decided within one week as stipulated in the constitution, so that it will lead to confusion.” Hun Sen, who favors republicanism, seems to intend to set his rival up as a king, sheltering behind the provision of present constitution ‘the sovereign reigns, but does not rule.’ On the other hand, Ranariddh refuted, “Our political activities are not against the present constitution. Hun Sen has infringed on human rights.” Away from the struggle for power, the citizens are suffering from lack of food. They don’t have enough rice for home consumption because of the worst flood in history occurred last year and the abnormal mass breeding of mice. So they are rushing to Phnom Penh, seeking job work. And the citizens’ economy is also pinched, because 30,000 foreigners left Cambodia in one month of March this year under the influence of terrorism and conflict of armed forces.
The aim of the operation to annihilate the Pol Pot party was originally the unification, peace and economic recovery of the country. But after 3,000 soldiers of the Ieng Sari faction pledged allegiance to the government in August last year, both the parties have tried eagerly to take the soldiers who surrendered into their parties so as not to be outnumbered by the opponent. The strength of the security unit having been reduced, the Vice-Minister of Interior Department Sirken condemned both the parties for being too absorbed in the struggle for power to consider the consequence, saying “They are taking terrorists indiscriminately into the government.” But it may safely be said that they are private soldiers of the party, because the soldiers decide which party they will support according to how to be treated or their personal feelings, so that there is a risk of coup or civil war. The FUNCINPEC party that goes for retrieval is sending envoys to General Tamoku of the Pot party which barricades itself in Anronben Fort in the north of Siem Reap. On April 19th, the situation has changed; the Hun Sen’s party transformed itself from the opposition party to the government. At least 11 National Assembly members of the FUNCINPEC party swung round in Hun Sen’s favor. Now the Hun Sen faction has 68 seats out of 120 in the National Assembly, including five members of the Ieng Mouly faction and one member of the Molinaka faction. The local journalists think that those FUNCINPEC members were fed up with Ranariddh’s dictatorship in the party and attracted to Hun Sen’s money. But a bill on election that is necessary to the general election needs to be passed by a majority of two-third of the members, or 80 seats. Therefore, there is a possibility that the election, which will make the defeat of the FUNCINPEC party clear, may be postponed because the FUNCINPEC party will block the passage of the bill.
Cambodian people will make a decision about their future on their own by the coming general election for the first time. Democracy was planted by the United Nations in the country that had been in the state of war for more than 20 years. However, four years may not be long enough for the democracy to take root.