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Cambodia: Hun Sen Reappointed Prime Minister - 2004-07-14

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk has agreed to reappoint Hun Sen as prime minister, ending an 11-month-long political stalemate that followed general elections last year. The appointment followed a moment of confusion earlier this week when a senior member of Hun Sen's party left the country abruptly.

King Norodom Sihanouk cleared the way for Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to return to office for a further five-year term, enabling the National Assembly to resume its work and bringing a year of political stalemate to an end.

King Sihanouk, currently living in North Korea, also agreed to a controversial bill that approves the simultaneous election of prime minister and National Assembly officials.

After protracted negotiations, Hun Sen finally reached agreement last month on the formation of a new coalition government with the Royalist Funcinpec Party, headed by Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

But the final agreement followed a last-minute moment of uncertainty Tuesday, when the acting head of state, Chea Sim, a senior member of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, left the country.

Chea Sim had reportedly balked at signing new legislation on the election of National Assembly officials, and troops and police surrounded his home late Monday. Later, diplomatic sources said Chea Sim had gone to Bangkok for "medical treatment."

As soon as Chea Sim left, the Senate vice president, Nhek Bun Chhay, stepped in and signed the bill. The King then agreed to reappoint Hun Sen.

Diplomats and analysts said political tensions in Phnom Penh have eased.

Tim Smyth, an analyst with Phnom Penh-based Indochina Research, downplayed earlier speculation that Chea Sim's departure marked a major split within the Cambodian People's Party.

"They [the CPP leadership] have managed the process over the last five years to the point where there have not been any clear rifts or instability [in the party]," he said.

Cambodia has enjoyed relative political stability since 1997, when Hun Sen ousted his then-coalition partner Prince Ranariddh and violence erupted in Phnom Penh.

After the Cambodian People's Party won last year's elections with less than a two-thirds majority, Prince Ranariddh refused to join Hun Sen in a new coalition, accusing him of corruption and mismanagement.

But a tentative agreement was reached late last month, under which Hun Sen would resume the post of prime minister and the prince would become National Assembly president.