Ranariddh bid for more power rocks coalition

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 March, 1996, 12:00am

Almost three years after a UN-sponsored election, the governing coalition put in place by King Norodom Sihanouk to avoid continuing civil war now seems set to disintegrate.

A recent national congress held by the royalist Funcinpec party has become a call to arms with the party's president, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, threatening to pull out of the coalition and go for an early election if more power is not handed to him and his party.

'Funcinpec must be allowed to really run the country which is not the case after two years. From today we cannot accept this anymore,' Prince Ranariddh said at the congress' closing ceremony last Friday.

Until that congress, the 'marriage of convenience' between former battlefield enemies - the ex-communist Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and Funcinpec - had held firm with both premiers claiming they would continue the coalition well after elections scheduled for 1998.

The unlikely alliance was formed when elements within the powerful CPP, who had led Cambodia as a one-party state since 1979, refused to hand over power when Funcinpec, made up mainly of royalist resistance fighters, won the 1993 election.

For some observers, the threatened collapse of the coalition is a sign Cambodia's multi-party pluralism is finally coming of age. But among war-weary Cambodians, for whom the alliance represents political stability if not democracy, the fear is political change will turn to political violence.

'We are not ready for an early election, we have no census, no nationality laws, no electoral laws or rules to cover the formation of political parties,' one concerned Funcinpec MP said.

'An election without a coalition would mean a return to the killings and intimidation of the 1993 election when 42 Funcinpec members were killed and injured by CPP authorities and their supporters,' the MP said.

CPP insiders agree Prince Ranariddh may have bitten off more than he can chew by threatening to upset the political compromise between the relatively powerless Funcinpec and the well-established CPP machine.

While CPP official comment on the crisis has been limited to a call for restraint to its members and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's demand for a public apology, behind the scenes the former communists are riled.

'In Cambodia . . . when the muscle flexing starts it leads to violence,' one CPP official said.

'It is now likely the CPP will withdraw even further from discussions about power sharing at the district level,' he said.

In a move which is likely to further incense the CPP, King Sihanouk has stepped into the crisis by threatening to call 'round table' negotiations if the feuding parties cannot reach a compromise.

'I will be able and totally within the constitution . . . to diplomatically interfere to put the 'train' of the Cambodian state back on track,' the king said.

Minority opposition parties might be the biggest winners in any breakdown of the tight alliance, which has so far banned the opposition Khmer Nation Party.

'There will be a new deal which may involve many new splits and alliances,' opposition leader Sam Rainsy said.

A former interior ministry official convicted for his role in a failed 1994 coup is to be released this week from prison for medical reasons, government sources and his family said yesterday. Sin Sen, the former under-secretary of state for the ministry who was sentenced to 18 years following the attempted putsch in July, 1994, will be placed under house arrest.

'The Ministry of Interior is preparing to transfer him from T-3 prison to his home,' Minister of Justice Chem Sgnuon said. 'The procedure is being carried out . . . with the approval of the king and the royal Government at the request of his family.' Sin Sen was one of three leaders convicted. Former interior minister General Sin Song escaped to Thailand where he was jailed for illegally entering the country, and Prince Norodom Chakrapong, one of King Sihanouk's sons, was exiled to France.