Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 5 News List

In Cambodia, Hun Sen approved, government set

COALITION The past year has seen something of a power vacuum in Phnom Penh, but events over the last few days seem to indicate that no crisis is imminent

AP , PHNOM PENH

Coalition partners Prince Norodom Ranariddh, left, of the Royalist Funcinpec party, and Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, of the Cambodian People's Party, leave the National Assembly in Phnom Penh yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Cambodia's legislature approved Hun Sen as prime minister yesterday, a year after an inconclusive general election left the country with no a proper government.

The 123-member National Assembly also approved the newly formed coalition government of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the royalist Funcinpec party. "Yes" votes were cast by 96 of the two parties' 99 lawmakers. Three coalition members were absent and the Sam Rainsy Party's 24 members boycotted the session.

Hun Sen's appointment was approved under a new law that allowed lawmakers to cast a single vote for several posts -- the prime minister, the National Assembly's president, two vice presidents and commission posts.

"Today is a historically significant day for the entire nation," Prince Norodom Ranarridh of Funcinpec told the National Assembly.

A Hun Sen-led caretaker government has run Cambodia since last July's inconclusive general election. His party topped the polls, but failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to govern alone.

Funcinpec, which came in second, initially refused to join Hun Sen, accusing him of corruption, autocratic behavior and mismanagement. But after months of negotiations, the two parties set aside their differences last month and agreed to form a coalition.

The parties will "readjust" their attitudes "to avoid problems" working together that they had during the previous coalition government, Hun Sen said. Previous tensions have led to pitched street battles between the groups.

The political stalemate delayed the National Assembly from carrying out important duties, including the ratification of an agreement with the UN on setting up a genocide tribunal to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

The National Assembly must also ratify Cambodia's accession to the WTO.

Yesterday's vote came amid fresh political turmoil because of a rift in the CPP between Hun Sen and party president Chea Sim, who is the acting head of state in King Norodom Sihanouk's absence.

Chea Sim abruptly left the country this week, ostensibly going for medical care, without signing the new law enabling a single vote for the entire new government. It was eventually signed by Funcinpec official and Senate Vice President Nhek Bun Chhay.

In the past, the various appointments had to be approved individually by the National Assembly. Hun Sen pushed for the package vote, fearing that Funcinpec, a reluctant ally in the coalition, would vote in favor of the other posts without backing his premiership.

The king, who is living in self-imposed exile in North Korea, has also publicly expressed disapproval of the new law.

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