A Change of Guard

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Monday, 27 February 2012

New Govt: Who is Really in Control?

by Nate Thayer
Friday, 19 November 1993, Phnom Penh Post
Nate Thayer

The three adopted Samdachs ['Princes'] sitting in front row. Sar Kheng is in the back row, between his brother-in-law and King Father's favourite adopted son! [School of Vice]

“Diplomats say that Sar Kheng and Chea Sim remain more suspicious of a powerful monarchy than Hun Sen.”

“While analysts agree that the elections bestowed a vital legitimacy of popular support on FUNCINPEC which forced the CPP to bow partly to popular will, the fundamental means of how power is achieved, protected and maintained, remains constant to that in modern Cambodian political culture- rife with united front alliances, partnerships of convenience, backroom powerplays, and the promise of conflict at the first show of weakness.”

When scores of opposition party figures were systematicallygunned down during the elections, the U.N. accused the ruling CambodianPeople's Party of controlling the death squads. And when the CPP lost theelection, their leaders mounted an armed secession of the eastern half of thecountry refusing to hand over power.

The glow of the elections has long faded, the U.N/ has gone,the transition period over, and, with muted pomp, a new government was formedearlier this month.

But many analysts say that when the smoke clears and therhetoric subsides, those in real power in Cambodia may remain the same CPPleaders who lost the U.N. organized elections.
Despite the U.N. leaders self-congratulatory applause ofUNTAC as a "model" for the future missions, the election results havebecome only one of the influences that will decide the new government.

The entrenched old methods of power politics - intimidation,the threat of violence, factional power bases, and the control of armed forces,security apparatus, and the loyalty of rank and file bureaucracy - will remainthe dominant forces determining who comes out in control of the new governmentin coming months.

FUNCINPEC has emerged with the key portfolios of the PrimeMinister's office, Foreign Affairs and Finance, while the CPP has the 2nd PrimeMinistership, key positions in the Council of Ministers, Commerce, Agriculture,and the head of the National Assembly.

On paper the two parties share the leadership of theInterior and Defense Ministries. The Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party(BLDP)has been given the Information portfolio in a compromise between the two largerparties.

But analysts say that in itself, the leadership of theseministries represent only the veneer of power and control. They say thetraditions of organizing power in Cambodia are rooted in control of the armedforces, interior and security apparatus, state bureaucracy and, importantly,the provincial political structures which control police, armed forces, taxcollection, and civil service.

These areas remain under the control of the CPP faction andrespond to political loyalty before central authority, analysts say.

FUNCINPEC officials say that such an analysis is prematuresince they only just assumed office, and that they did not have the authorityduring the transitional government to make serious efforts to take control ofthe ministries they were awarded.

"The Royal government has been only two weeks inoperation," Economics and Finance Minister Sam Rainsy told the Post onNov. 15. "This is still a transitional period," he said, but claimedthat efforts to gain control of the government would be a priority of hisparty.

"We will introduce FUNCINPEC cadre to all levels ofministries," he said, arguing that many CPP cadre actually voted for hisparty.

"The CPP knows they are fighting a rear-guard action[to keep loyalty]. They know the trend is not for the CPP. The trend is fordemocracy. The development of the country means political transparency and thatis against the CPP interests," he added.

Others were more pessimistic. "They [FUNCINPEC] controltheir offices, their cars, but they do not control the bureaucracy," saidone official close to Sihanouk.

"The official titles are just theater - a cinema,"said another source close to Sihanouk.
"Inside the roots of the CPP are too deep, mainly theSar Kheng/Chea Sim people. The administrative structure has been maintained,the military status quo and the administrative status quo. Not 100 percent but90 percent. Only 10 percent will be fulfilled by FUNCINPEC," he said.

Observers point to the Foreign Ministry as an example of thedifficulties FUNCINPEC has faced in assuming real control of the ministriesthey have been awarded. FUNCINPEC sources say that only two of their officialshave been appointed to the ministry since they assumed control more than threemonths ago - the Foreign Minister Prince Norodom Sirivuddh and an AssistantSecretary of State.

Rainsy admitted that having the central government gaincontrol of the provincial apparatus, where 80 percent of the population reside,will be difficult.
He cited "defacto autonomy of the provinces [ that] wehave had neither the time nor the political means to bring the provinces undercentral control, otherwise there would have been chaos".

Rainsy said, "central authority has very littleknowledge - not even to speak of control - but knowledge of the provinces."

Cambodia's provinces, under the communist style system, arecontrolled by a governor, who's real authority come from his position as headof the all-powerful provincial Party apparatus.
He traditionally controls provincial armed forces, the policeand security services, the bureaucracy, and revenue collection. He reports tothe party, not the state.
In the provinces, the CPP structure remains wholly intact,giving enormous national power to people such as Sar Kheng.

Sar Kheng, some diplomats and analysts say, is emerging asone of the single most powerful personalities in the new government.

Made one of two vice Prime Ministers, Sar Kheng alsomaintains his position as Minister of Interior. But it is his role in the CPPparty structure that has given him the influence that he wields.

His biography mirrors many who remain powerful in the newRoyal government. Sar Kheng was born Jan. 15, 1951, in Prey Veng province to afather active in the revolutionary Issarak movement.
He joined the revolution on the day of the Lon Nol coup in1970 (according to his official biography, although it is believed he wasactive prior to this) and steadily rose up the Khmer Rouge ranks.

He survived purges of his superiors in 1976, working inpropaganda organs in the northeast and east under the Khmer Rouge and joinedthe resistance against Pol Pot's leadership in May 1978.
After the Vietnamese invasion he served as secretary to thenparty head Pen Sovann, before Sovann himself was purged and arrested by theVietnamese in 1982.

During the Vietnamese occupation, Sar Kheng steadily rosethrough the ranks, serving in key organizational party posts, elected to thecentral committee in 1984, the politburo in 1988, and in 1990 was given one of themost powerful positions in a communist structure, that of president of theparty's commission for organization. He is the brother in law of party chairmanChea Sim.
As head of party organization, Sar Kheng controlledvirtually all appointments to party posts, which under the Leninist structuresupersedes in importance government or state positions. This includesprovincial governor ships and scores of other key positions of influence instate organs and ministries.

When the Paris Peace Accords required the CPP to removedirect party control over the components of government, Sar Kheng assumed hisnew position of minister of interior. This is a rough equivalent of the party'sorganization portfolio, because of it's supremacy over the nationwide bureaucracy.Much of the new government's civil servants - at least indirectly - owe himtheir jobs from when the Party was in charge of approving appointments.

With Chea Sim in charge of the National Assembly (a post heretains from the 1980s when Cambodia was a one-party state) and Sar Kheng incharge of the Interior Ministry, their faction wields enormous power with thesecurity services, the legislative body and the provincial authorities.

The intellectuals within the CPP are largely allied with HunSen, who controls the other faction within the CPP. In the cabinet line-up ofthe new Royal government, all except a handful of senior CPP officials are HunSen loyalists, observers say.
As a result, Sar Kheng has begun to attract and recruit anumber of intellectuals to policy positions in the Interior Ministry.

A number of senior officials of the Liberal Democratic Party(formerly the armed wing of the republican Khmer People's National LiberationFront) are expected to hold positions with Sar Kheng.

Analysts say that after a poor showing in the elections, theLDP leaders need patrons to protect them, and the Sar Kheng Chea Sim faction -largely controlled by former peasant revolutionaries - need intellectuals togive them legitimacy and help them adjust to a more complicated politicalterrain of diplomacy.

The KPNLF attracted a number of savvy, bright, educatedtechnocrats to their guerrilla movement in the 1980s. The former chief ofcabinet for the Liberal Democratic Party, Ok Serei Sopheak, has been recruitedas chief of Staff at Sar Kheng's Interior Ministry.

Like many from the LDP, he is widely respected as a bright,knowledgeable politician and administrator by diplomats and others - exactlywhat the CPP faction lacks.
But analysts say the alliance is a logical one as well. ManyKPNLF intellectuals remain deeply suspicious, as do the CPP, of a powerfulmonarchy and Royalist control over political decision.
"It is a coincidence of interests," says onesenior KPNLF official. Another said it offers a healthy "checks andbalance" to the rise of Royalist influence. Diplomats say that Sar Khengand Chea Sim remain more suspicious of a powerful monarchy than Hun Sen.

As an indication of the rising star of Sar Kheng, the Posthas learned he has been invited to officially visit the United States in comingweeks. Sponsored by the United States Information Service, the trip is designedto expose foreign leaders to the mechanisms of democracy and politicalpluralism, and will include an itinerary largely designed by Sar Kheng himself.Sources say that one of the purposes of the trip is to wean him away from theinfluence of Vietnam, his patron during the last 14 years.

Diplomats say that it appears Hun Sen and his faction aredeclining in influence, with much of the role they played in the old government- of a moderate face acceptable to the West - having been co-opted by FUNCINPECin the new government.
"Hun Sen knows that the Chea Sim group and FUNCINPECwant to eliminate him. He is weak, but still has real power," said onesenior official of the new government. Added a diplomat:"Don'tunderestimate him."

Some point to the conflict over the appointment of SonSoubert to the vice president of the National Assembly as demonstrating thatHun Sen still maintains influence. While Chea Sim supported the appointment andHun Sen opposed it, Chea Sim could only deliver 11 CPP votes on the firstattempt. It was only after Sihanouk intervened that Soubert was approved,according to sources close to the debate.

During the elections many of the hard-line party operatives(mostly loyal to Chea Sim and Sar Kheng) were replaced on the ballot by CPPUnited Front technocrats and moderates (mostly loyal to Hun Sen) to give theCPP a more gentle reform image to the electorate.
As a result, the CPP assembly representatives aredisproportionately composed of Hun Sen loyalists.
The only people who appear to be happy about all thispotential for conflict within the ranks of the new government is the Party ofDemocratic Kampuchea - the Khmer Rouge.
Khmer Rouge sources say that despite the widely-held beliefthat they are terminally ill as a political force in Cambodia, they remainconfident that the new government will collapse under the pressure of internalconflicts. They predict an increase in corruption and say a declining economicstate in the rural areas will undermine popular support for the new governmentafter an initial political "honeymoon" of several months.

Their mood is "confident" and their strategy is tomaintain control over their forces, encourage instability in the countryside,exploit discontent among FUNCINPEC cadre, and wait for an opportunity to seek agreater role in a future administration.
Sources say that King Sihanouk keeps direct contact with theKhmer Rouge and remains convinced they should be brought into somepower-sharing role for the sake of long-term stability.
Sources point to Sihanouk's recent decision to appoint KhmerRouge senior diplomats to his personal cabinet in Beijing as an indication ofhis sentiment towards the group.
While it is much too early to predict which political trendswill prevail, it is increasingly clear that the elections served only as amoderate influence in the struggle for political power in recent months andthat much of the real conflict lies ahead.

While analysts agree that the elections bestowed a vitallegitimacy of popular support on FUNCINPEC which forced the CPP to bow partlyto popular will, the fundamental means of how power is achieved, protected andmaintained, remains constant to that in modern Cambodian political culture-rife with united front alliances, partnerships of convenience, backroompowerplays, and the promise of conflict at the first show of weakness.


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