ONE week after what was the first - and maybe the last - reasonably free Cambodian general election, the Cambodian people have produced a very sensible result but the Cambodian politicians have already moved to undermine it. The mood of self-congratulation in Phnom Penh over the relatively peaceful polls has quickly given way to the grim realisation that Cambodia is not yet out of the woods. Immediately the revered Cambodian leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk has once more behaved as one who has received too much reverence, and too little criticism. The former King Sihanouk first carried out what was in effect a coup against the United Nations, as he made new political arrangements uncharted in the UN-sponsored Paris Peace Accords, thereby possibly exchanging the hope of short-term stability for prospects of enduring democracy. Eighteen hours later, he reduced the prospects for both stability and democracy by doing a petulant about-turn in classic Sihanouk style. In the election itself, the Cambodian voters did all that could have been expected of them. As just under 90 per cent turned out at the polls, they ignored the menace posed by the guerillas of the dreaded Khmer Rouge. The voters turned out in force from the first day of voting, and the threats failed to materialise. But the voters also resisted the intimidation and violent pressure with which the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), and its State of Cambodia regime (SOC) - essentially the government imposed by Vietnamese force of arms in 1979 - sought to win re-election. The CPP, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, confidently expected to win between 60 and 70 per cent of the vote but in fact have secured roughly half their expectations. The Cambodian electorate was clearly looking for a less violent alternative - and the only one they found was the FUNCINPEC (the acronym for the National United Front for an Independent Neutral Peaceful and Co-operative Cambodia led by Prince Sihanouk's eldest son Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Here again the voters showed good sense by resisting voting for the plethora of small often locally-based parties which sprung up for the election. To have done that, rather than voting for FUNCINPEC, would have returned the CPP and the SOC government topower. If the voters did their duty, the question remained whether the politicians would follow suit. All along three, among many, problems have seemed likely to dog Cambodia's path. All three are present today. First, there was the great doubt that the politicians, after years of factional fighting and guerilla warfare, would accept the decision which the voters handed down. With deep irony, to date only the Khmer Rouge appears to have accepted the people's will. The Khmer Rouge did not participate in the election. They thus tacitly acknowledged that the electorate would vote against them. The CPP on the other hand obviously has a great deal of trouble admitting that it is not as popular as it has said it was. The CPP lost decisively in Hun Sen's home province of Kompong Cham. The party president, Chea Sim, held his bailiwick but still saw a corrupt relative defeated. BACKED by nearly 150,000 armed troops and police (against the Khmer Rouge's maximum of about 20,000) the CPP has the muscle to back its protests, plus control of the SOC government. But there was another person capable of rejecting the electorate's decision - Prince Sihanouk himself. The second problem facing post-election Cambodia was the role to be played by the mercurial, unpredictable and above all the vain Prince Sihanouk. Sources in the United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC) and foreign diplomats in Phnom Penh began the week stressing the importance of Sihanouk's role. They should have also stressed that Sihanouk is - and has long been - part of the Cambodian problem. Before the election he had taken himself off to Beijing in a huff, only returning when a FUNCINPEC victory seemed possible. Way back in the 1950s and 1960s Sihanouk's wayward and egocentric ways helped to create the problems which resulted in Cambodia's descent into darkness. In the new government Sihanouk became president, prime minister and commander-in-chief. On past Sihanouk performance this was simply no answer to Cambodia's vexed problems. All that Sihanouk did achieve was to get CPP assent to his leadership and to dissolve the SOC. For this loyalty to Sihanouk, the CPP, even though it had just lost the election, was rewarded by half the new government's posts with Hun Sen appointed as one of two deputy premiers. Typically, Sihanouk never consulted the real winner of the election, his son Prince Ranariddh, who was stuck in a corner of Cambodia all week, unable, he claimed, to fly back to Phnom Penh because the SOC would not give his plane permission to land. Mercifully, Ranariddh has ceased to behave as the dutiful son, the image he had conveyed during the election. He made his objections to the new government known to his father. Criticisms of a constitutional coup were also made by UNTAC and diplomatic personalities. The third problem remains the United Nations. UNTAC needs to drop its intention of scuttling out of Cambodia in the next three months - and to make it plain that it will only go when stability is achieved. The image of UN readiness to quickly depart lies at the heart of current troubles. A weak UNTAC will to assert itself makes the CPP less willing to compromise.