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Was the 1993 Cambodian election a success?

1993 Cambodian Election
1993 Cambodian Election

Was the 1993 Cambodian election a success? History teaches us that it was, but what was the real story? In reality things were much more complex. At one stage Cambodia was almost split into three countries. We take a look at the facts.

It is amazing that whilst Cambodia is a mega tourist destination few know all that much about its history. Yeah people know about the Killing Fields (to an extent), but knowledge about the inner workings of the Khmer Rouge are scant when compared to say, the Nazis.

Peace in our time?

Another misconception is that peace was achieved in 1993. Now whilst it is true that things certainly got better after  the 1993 Cambodian election, it was to be a long way from peace. The Khmer Rouge were still running amok in their little fiefdoms and there was to be another almost full on civil war.

The 1993 Cambodian election

For all intents the 1993 elections were won by the Royalist FUNCINPEC. We will deal with the shit-show the aftermath of this result later. There are though some points to go over first!

Who was competing in the 1993 Cambodian Election?

FUNCINPEC were the Royalist party initially formed by King Sihanouk with assistance from North Korea. Just wait, things are still gonna get weirder. By the time of the elections in 1993, Sihanouk was no longer “leader” of FUNCINPEC, but kind of head of state of Cambodia. The party though was led by his son, namely Norodom Ranariddh. They had been aligned with the Khmer Rouge during the civil war (more than once).

The CPP. Formerly the Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea but rebranded as the Cambodian Peoples Party and led by Hun Sen. They were the continuation of the government that had ousted the Khmer Rouge.

Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP). They were led by long-time Republican and former allies of the residence Son Sann. He had previously led the Khmer Peoples National Liberation Front. This was the 3rd most powerful fighting force in the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea. They were both anti-communist and anti-Royalist.

The Cambodian National Unity Party. This was the rebranding of the Party of Democratic Kampuchea which had been a rebranding of the Communist Party of Kampuchea AKA the Khmer Rouge. They would eventually refuse to take part in elections and were to continue fighting from their own unrecognized state. More on that whole mess later.

Who won the 1993 Cambodian Election?

FUNCINPEC won 58 seats, the CPP 51, the BLDP 10 and the small MOULINAKA 1 seat. The Khmer Rouge carried on doing their own thing in the 6% of the country still under their control.

So, FUNCINPEC had won the election, but it was a hung parliament. In theory they should be asked to form a government right? Well fun fact, no.

Where did Sihanouk fit into all this?

Sihanouk was head of the largely ceremonial Coalition Government known as the Supreme National Council. This is not to be confused with the former Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, as this one included the CPP.

We will talk more about the SNC in another article, but the main problem was the SNC had no power.

Who was actually governing Cambodia at the time of the 1993 elections?

OK, so this is where things start to get all weird. UNTAC were running Cambodia under the leadership of Yakushi Akashi , a UN diplomat. Whilst governing Cambodia Akashi had been tasked with setting up an election, which he did and disarming the militias, which he largely didn’t. At least certainly not the Khmer Rouge.

So UNTAC technically were running the country, the country was technically governed by the Supreme National Council and what of the CPP? The CPP were still realistically in charge of most of the military, police, media and organs of state. A three way “sharing” of power in Cambodia, except it wasn’t really shared.

The CPP disputes the election results

On learning of their defeat the CPP claimed the elections were rigged, something flatly denied by the UN. The UN quickly said the elections were “fine” and Akashi et all were desperate to flee the mess.

Hun Sen leader of the CPP suggested that Sihanouk take control as head of state of Cambodia and HEAD of government. Sihanouk agreed and suggested the CPP and FUNCINPEC share all ministries 50-50. This “offer’ was flatly rejected by, well everyone. Now for some context, remember the the son of Sihanouk was at this time the leader of the biggest party in parliament, BUT the leader of the opposition was to tell him to take over the state. Things were to get weirder still.

Sihanouk had more than one son….

Enter Norodom Chakrapong stage left. Norodom Chakrapong had been a military leader for FUNCINPEC during the struggle AGAINST the government of Kampuchea. Lets also remember that FUNCINPEC was the party of his brother and father. Lets move on.

Norodom Chakrapong warrants and indeed deserves his own article, something I shall provide in due course.

Norodom Chakrapong defects to the CPP

In one of the biggest coup’s even pulled off by The CPP he managed to get a royal son to defect to his formerly communist party. Said son had spent 10 years fighting his government militarily. He was directly given the title of deputy Prime-Minister for his move.

Why did he defect? It hard to look further than a desire for power, but he was known to still be in favor of his father, but instead hoping he would be a President of Cambodia, rather than a king.

Norodom Chakrapong and his 7 provinces secede from Cambodia

At the time Norodom Chakrapong was based in the east of Cambodia essentially controlling a number of provinces that bordered Vietnam. He was so the story goes enraged that the UN had “fixed” the election. He demanded all UN troops leave his area and ransacked offices of FUNCINPEC.

When you consider things this was quite a marked change of heart seeing as he had only left FUNCINPEC for the CPP one year before.

The Samdech Euv Autonomous Zone is declared

Sadly there is no award for rubbish country names, for if there was this would surely be in the running. On June 10th Norodom Chakrapong declared the Samdech Euv Autonomous Zone and everyone, well except the UN went nuts.

A hasty emergency meeting of the constituent assembly was called, but for 5 days at least it looked like Cambodia could be split three ways. Hun Sen it should be noted did not support this move in any way shape, or form, but the result was certainly not all that bad for him.

For Norodom Chakrapong this was to be the pinnacle of his political career, with further defections and failures being the net result of his later life

Why would Cambodia  have become 3 states?

The Khmer Rouge were already out in Anlong Veng playing country. They were yet to declare the equally catchy name of The Provisional Government of National Union and National Salvation of Cambodia (PGNUNSC), until 1994. They were at the time though still calling themselves Democratic Kampuchea. This would have left a rump State of Cambodia led by the CPP and King Sihanouk, with his son running another and the Khmer Rouge still in their area. A very strange state of affairs.

End result of the 1993 Cambodian Election

After the emergency session of the constituent assembly. At said meeting it was greed that there would be a power sharing agreement, whereby the CPP and FUNCINPEC would share power 50-50. Remember that deal? The same one everyone had refused before?

By the making this deal the east decided they would not be their own country and Cambodia was to live happily ever after? Again, not quite. The UN though were certainly happy enough and beat a hasty retreat from the country.

Sihanouk remained in charge for another 3 months before stepping down as “Head of Government” On September 21st 1993. On the 23rd of September he was again aimed king. The Kingdom of Cambodia with Sihanouk at the forefront 2.0 was to begin.

The 1997 Civil War in Cambodia

Officially this period has many names from clashes to the “coup”. Neither is correct, this was for all intents a civil war, one which had a winner and loser. the 1993 power-sharing agreement was supposed to ward off civil war, all it actually did was delay it. tensions simmered for 4 years before both sides whilst courting the Khmer Rouge entered into open warfare.

This was to last 3 months before the forces of the CPP pushed FUNCIPEC into the north of Cambodia and again into an unholy alliance with the Khmer Rouge. The CPP won the war and have been in power since. Some look back on 1997 as coup. It was not, it was an inevitable battle that had a winner and loser.

There was a coalition after the 1998 election, but for all intents this was pretty much the end of the opposition as a force. Ironically this “final battle” also led to the end of the Khmer Rouge and since then the longest period of stability in the recent history of the country. The government might have its detractors, but stability is stability

Was the 1993 election a success?

There were a few success, but n all honesty numerous failures. The success was that 1993 Cambodia was more peaceful than 1992 Cambodia, they had a king again.

The failures of the UN though were immense. Failure to disarm the Khmer Rouge meant they remained a fighting force. Creating, or allowing the dual-government meant that both sides would need to court the Khmer Rouge. This meant that many senior leaders ended up defecting to various sides and getting Royal Pardons.

By the time they started to arrest people for war crimes most had either died, went senile, or were close to death. They had all for the most part also enjoyed their retirement years in not only freedom, but relative riches when compared to the peasants they had “stood for”. Ta Mok being a huge case in point here.

Thus the 1993 Cambodian elections were a means to an end. They and UNTAC though created far more problems than they should have. This was the only time the UN has taken over sovereignty of a country, which by looks of things is probably for the best.

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