The ruling Cambodian Peoples' Party has claimed victory in the recently completed general elections, although final official results will not be announced until Friday. That was not unexpected. There were some surprises, however, in the all-important contest for second place.
Picking the winner in Cambodia's National Assembly elections did not take any great powers in forecasting the future. After all, the Cambodian Peoples' Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen has power, organization and money, and no one thought it would lose.
But surprising almost everybody were the stunning electoral losses of Funcinpec, the royalist party that was the junior coalition partner in the previous CPP government.
Raoul Jennar, a longtime analyst of Cambodian political affairs, said Funcinpec paid a price at the polls for siding with the Cambodian Peoples' Party. "It seems that a significant number of them [voters] were disappointed by the collaboration with the CPP in the previous government, so they moved to SRP," he said, referring to the opposition Sam Rainsy Party. It started out as a splinter group of Funcinpec and was the main beneficiary of Funcinpec's electoral malaise.
The number of seats for each party in the 123-seat National Assembly is allocated by a complex proportional representation system. It appears the CPP will have 73 seats - nine more than it won in the 1998 elections. The Sam Rainsy Party also made a net gain of nine for a total of 24. But Funcinpec took a nosedive, winning only 26 seats, a loss of 17 from its 1998 total.
Kao Kim Horn of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace said Funcinpec tried to pass itself off as an opposition party, but failed. "A lot of the issues that Sam Rainsy had been raising, fighting for even, in 1998, and those were the issues that Funcinpec had also been campaigning on. So, I think there was no distinction by the voters between what actually is different between Funcinpec and the opposition. Of course, those who voted for the Sam Rainsy Party felt that perhaps the Sam Rainsy Party was more genuine," he said.
Both Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party complained of intimidation and vote-buying. But analysts say this is political bluster as a prelude to some hard bargaining over how the government will be formed. Mr. Jennar said he hopes events will not follow the script of 1998, when post-election protests turned violent.
"In Cambodia, there is still a very limited tradition of peaceful demonstration. So, we will see if the sense of responsibility on different sides has improved, has increased since 1998," he said.
With the CPP short of the two-thirds majority necessary under Cambodian law to govern, most analysts predict the next government will look much like its predecessor, with Funcinpec - despite the price it paid at the polls - again in a coalition with the CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party in opposition. But analysts say the Sam Rainsy Party is ascendant for 2008, and that Funcinpec needs a major shakeup if it is to survive.