Consolidation and Coup in Cambodia

Updated On: Oct 10, 2006

First, the consolidation of power by Prime Minister Hun Sen; now rumours of coup in Cambodia.

This week, Hun Sen warned against any coup attempt akin to the Thai coup when he is away in Australia for a state visit. He said, “Do not try this when I am inCanberra. I will not let people do what they did to the former king. This is my message.” (There was previously a coup against the former king and then prince Norodom Sihanouk by Lon Nol in 1970).  Hun Sen apparently heard the rumours from a foreign- run radio broadcast.

Yet a coup attempt in the case of Cambodia seems unlikely for the very reason that Hun Sen has been consolidating his power and by most accounts, he seems to be succeeding. For the past few months, Hun Sen has been introducing legislation, reducing the effective power of his supposed coalition partner, Funcinpec. For instance, in March, Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) managed to push through a voting law allowing motions in the National Assembly to pass through a simple majority instead of a two-third majority. Given that CPP already has a simple majority, Funcinpec’s votes are no longer required. (The CPP holds 73 seats, while Funcinpec and Sam Rainsey Party hold 26 and 24 seats respectively).

Hun Sen has gone even further, marginalising the power of Funcinpec by proposing a government reshuffle to reduce the number of Funcinpec government position holders. Hun Sen has already earlier replaced some undersecretaries of state who are members of Funcinpec Party with other Funcinpec members, suggesting that the weak cohesion within the Funcinpec Party. In September, Hun Sen announced that he would replace 19 Funcinpec Party members from senior government positions. The motion is expected to be passed by the National Assembly this month.

Despite Funcipec’s Chairman Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s call for his party members to boycott the vote of the reshuffle, he is not likely to obtain any support from the other opposition party, Sam Rainsey. Sam Rainsey has, ironically, supported CPP’s moves to reduce the participation of the Royalist party’s presence in politics. Sam Rainsey made the comments after the President of the National Assembly, Heng Samrin, also from the CPP criticised the poor attendance record (at the National Assembly) by the Funcinpec members of parliament.

The failure of Sam Rainsey and Funcinpec to work together to block Hun Sen suggests that these both parties are likely to see their influence in the National Assembly reduced. Hun Sen and his party are the clear winners from these political manoeuvres in the past months. The military and other apparatus of power also seem to be firmly under Hun Sen. With all this consolidation of power, it is a wonder that there have been rumours of a coup ala Thailand.


Cambodian PM Warns Against Coup Attempt (ABC Premium [Australia], 6 October 2006)

Cambodia Says Relations Normal With Post-Coup Thailand (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 5 October 2006)

Hun Sen Dismisses Rumour of Possible Coup in Cambodia (Xinhua, 5 October 2006)

Cambodian Opposition Joins Calls for Royalty to Quit Politics (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 4 October 2006)