Cambodia Faces Its Future

June 06, 1993

The Cambodian election was a victory for the United Nations and the peace accord of 1991, and a triumph of the human spirit. The U.N. supervised the country's administration and elections. This tortured, battered, decimated people turned out despite the threats of the Khmer Rouge in numbers that would put Americans to shame. Nine out of ten eligible Cambodians voted.

That was a repudiation of the Khmer Rouge, which fearing loss had not taken part. It was also a defeat for the former Communist and Vietnam-influenced Cambodian People's Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which had violently harassed the royalist opposition, which won the most support. And it was a repudiation of the right-wing force of the formerly U.S.-backed Son Sann, now called the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, which ran on race hatred against ethnic Vietnamese, and which scraped the bottom at four percent of the vote.

That said, the election was also a shaky guide to Cambodia's future. A party called Funcinpec, which is a French acronym for "United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia," came in first with 45.3 percent of the vote, to CPP's 38.7 percent. This would translate to 58 seats of the 120 in the Constituent Assembly, which is supposed to write a constitution and then govern as a parliament. That is not enough to govern without coalition support.

Funcinpec is thought of as "the royalists," supporters of the 72-year-old former king, prime minister, exile and wily survivor, Prince Norodom Sihanouk. It is led by his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Enmity between it and the CPP of Hun Sen is fierce. Hence the gyrations by Sihanouk, first to proclaim himself interim head of state and government with Hun Sen and Ranariddh held in check as deputies, then washing his hands of the idea and taking to his sickbed.

Cambodia has come too far for the rivalry of Hun Sen and !B Ranariddh to be allowed to plunge it back into chaos. Sihanouk remains the chief unifying figure and a frail reed, but he and the U.N. administrators must broker compromise. Ranariddh's party should lead, which is difficult when CPP has the guns. Their failure to accommodate could reward only the hated Khmer Rouge, which 90 percent of the people oppose. It's hard to know why anyone would want the responsibility of governing Cambodia after its decades of torment. Those who do need all the help from each other they can get.

The election was a mandate for peace, democracy and national reconciliation. That ought to make true believers even of the winners.

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