Cambodian parties agree to form coalition government

BURYING THE HATCHET: The impoverished country's two main political parties yesterday signed a power-sharing deal, marking an end to an 11-month deadlock


Sun, Jun 27, 2004 - Page 5

Eleven months after Cambodia's disputed general election, the two main political parties buried their differences yesterday and agreed to form a coalition government, officials said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) signed the power-sharing deal with Prince Norodom Ranariddh, head of the royalist FUNCINPEC party, according to a joint statement.

"At last, we have made it after months of negotiations," said Om Yentieng, one of Hun Sen's top advisers.

The CPP won 73 of the 123 National Assembly seats in the July polls, but fell short of the two-thirds majority required to run the southeast Asian nation, which is still recovering from the genocidal ravages of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

FUNCINPEC, Hun Sen's reluctant coalition partner in the previous administration, won 26 seats and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party won 24.

The agreement, which should pave the way for speedy ratification of a UN-backed Khmer Rouge genocide trial, sees the CPP retaining effective control of the deeply impoverished country.

Barring any more last-minute hiccups, the National Assembly should also be able to approve Cambodia's accession to the World Trade Organization, agreed in Mexico last year.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who has been in charge for nearly 20 years, remains at the helm. The statement says his party controls key ministries such as finance, foreign affairs, commerce and telecommunications.

FUNCINPEC, which had a disastrous election, losing nearly half of its seats, has had to satisfy itself with more low-key ministries such as health, environment, education and sport and culture.

As in the previous administration, the defense and interior ministries will have joint ministers, although diplomats say there is no doubt the CPP, which has grown from a 1980s Vietnamese occupation government, will be running the show.

"I expect the new National Assembly to be in place within the next two weeks, and a new government to be in place by then," CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.

Officials from FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy party, which at one point looked as though it might form part of a "national unity" three-party government, could not immediately be reached for comment.

In the absence of a government for the last 11 months, the CPP has continued to run the country on a day-to-day basis, meaning that the political impasse has not had too noticeable an economic effect.

However, the opposition and non-governmental groups say there appears to have been an increase in overall levels of corruption as senior business and political figures make use of the power vacuum.