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Cablegate: Cambodia's National Assembly-Elect: Something Old,

VZCZCXRO0144
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0629/01 2130949
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 310949Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000629

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, P, D, DRL, INR

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM PHUM PINR CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA'S NATIONAL ASSEMBLY-ELECT: SOMETHING OLD,
SOMETHING NEW, SRP VERY BLUE

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 622
B. PHNOM PENH 613
C. PHNOM PENH 611
D. PHNOM PENH 601

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The National Assembly-elect may not be
sworn in until sometime in September if the opposition
chooses to drag out the election appeals process.
Nonetheless, it appears the CPP will hold onto its 90 seats
(Ref B) and a clear electoral mandate. Whether CPP will form
a coalition, and with whom, will be the question of the month
in August. In the end, the title of coalition partner may go
to the swiftest and, an early FUNCINPEC coalition bid
notwithstanding, a coalition could include a number of
combinations. The CPP has in the past preferred to rule by
coalition because, among other factors, that arrangement
buffers the party from its critics. It is highly likely that
there will be no delay (as there was in 2003), as the new
government will want to get down to work. Post offers an
assessment of the non-CPP parties elected to the National
Assembly. There is the old, in Prince Norodom Ranariddh of
Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP); there is the new in the Human
Rights Party (HRP), which gained three seats; and then there
is the "blue" in the disappointed Sam Rainsy Party (SRP),
which appears to be recovering from a prick to the balloon of
inflated internal expectations. (Note: Expectations many
outsiders did not share (Ref D) but which may be causing the
party to try to save face with its foreign supporter base by
its rejection of the poll results.) The opposition, now
ironically unified in protest against election results the
rest of the world recognizes, could have garnered a hefty
coalition bonus (Ref E), if it had united a year ago and run
under one banner. END SUMMARY.

Will Old Ranariddh Grace the National Assembly with his
Presence?
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

2. (SBU) Among the most curious election outcomes was the
come-back of Prince Norodom Ranariddh who won one of two NRP
seats, in Kampong Cham province, via a unique telephonic
election campaign from Malaysia. In a throwback to another
era, Ranariddh's voice was broadcast live over big speaker
systems to assembled crowds in the audience, as a huge poster
of his visage sat on stage with other more animate NRP
notables. As many (now defunct) FUNCINPEC leaders had told
us, Ranariddh can carry a crowd and is an effective
campaigner. Having lost his Supreme Court appeal of a
conviction for breach of trust just two days after the
election, the Prince now faces 18 months in jail.
Parliamentary immunity is not retroactive. Even if he should
win a pardon from King Sihamoni, whether Ranariddh would
return to parliament as an ordinary member out of power,
after having been its President, remains to be seen.

3. (SBU) The second NRP winner was Sao Rany, who must be
savoring his victory over so many FUNCINPEC regulars who did
not remain loyal to Ranariddh in the October 2006 putsch led
by Nhiek Bunchhay and are now sidelined. Sao Rany led the
NRP ticket in Prey Veng and won for the party almost as many
votes as HRP there. Sao Rany is a close confidante of
Ranariddh.

New HRP Comes on Strong, But Not as Strong as Expected
--------------------------------------------- ---------

4. (SBU) Khem Sokha will lead HRP with his National
Assembly seat from Kampong Cham. HRP was expected to win at
least one seat, but there was no confidence that it would
pull in more. Khem Sokha apparently believed his own
propaganda that HRP would win big and appears to be
disappointed that HRP took only 6.6 percent of the national
vote and three seats. Consequently, Khem Sokha is protesting
the election outcome, but has chosen not to file any official
complaints with the National Election Committee. (COMMENT:
A strong sign that he is angling for a coalition position
with CPP. END COMMENT.) One of the other two HRP
candidates, Mr. Ou Chanrith, with a seat in Kandal, is a
Cambodian-American from Fresno California well and favorably
known to the Pol/Ec Section. Ou Chanrith was formerly a
teacher and had worked hard to promote education among
Southern California's Cambodian youth, who were prone to drop
out and join youth gangs. As HRP spokesperson, he helped
shape the HRP image and brand, and would not relent when
critics said the party should drop its name.

5. (SBU) Veteran MP and Kampong Cham native Keo Remy was

PHNOM PENH 00000629 002 OF 002


about 2,000 votes shy of carrying a Phnom Penh seat for HRP
and will now sit on the sidelines unless HRP can manage to
join a government coalition. Keo Remy was formerly with
FUNCINPEC, then moved to SRP, but bolted for HRP when, he
says, he saw that he could not enter the inner SRP circle.
HRP also just missed gaining seats in Takeo and Kampong Speu
(see para 8).

Something Blue: Sam Rainsy
--------------------------

6. (SBU) SRP is returning 17 veteran members of parliament,
including Sam Rainsy (Kampong Cham) and Tioulong Samaura
(Phnom Penh) and former National Assembly committee heads Son
Chhay and Yim Sovann. Nine new members include Ms. Ly
Sreyvina, a long-time SRP supporter and successful medical
doctor with a string of clinics, who takes one of SRP's five
Phnom Penh seats. Having lost one seat in Phnom Penh, SRP
gained an additional seat in Takeo and took one each in
Kampong Chnang and Kratie, for a net gain of two now totaling
26 seats. Kratie is a new electoral district for SRP. With
21.9 percent of the national vote, the SRP mirrored its
performance of 2003, when it obtained 21.87 percent. The
more seasoned party secured more strategically useful votes
to obtain more seats in the province-by-province competition.

7. (SBU) However, some SRP contacts at party headquarters
were visibly upset that they did not do better and this may
reflect the losses of the likes of Cambodian-Americans Marty
Seng (Svay Rieng) and Teav Vannol (Kampong Cham). Seng, the
brother of CSD head Theary Seng, lost by a margin of just a
few thousand votes. (COMMENT: We wonder if the SRP protest
against the results -- still unbuttressed by solid evidence
-- isn't meant more to answer overseas queries about campaign
contributions as well as to build an opposition coalition in
the new parliament. END COMMENT.)

The Missed Opportunity: A "Coalition Bonus"
-------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Based on extensive sample-based polling of voters
last year, IRI had predicted that if the main opposition
parties had joined in a coalition they would gain extra
seats. The "coalition bonus" as they called it was predicted
to be substantial. According to post's calculations of the
2008 election results, if SRP and HRP had joined forces they
would have netted an additional four seats. If all of the
major opposition parties had joined forces -- SRP, HRP,
FUNCINPEC, and HRP -- they would have increased their
parliamentary seat holdings by 17 over and above the sum of
their individual party seat allocations in the July 27
election. In the latter case, CPP would have been left with
just 77 seats, less than the 83 needed in the 123-seat
National Assembly to carry a two-thirds vote on crucial
issues such as constitutional amendments or stripping an MP
of parliamentary immunity. IRI had correctly predicted a
grand coalition could have had synergies that the individual
competing parties do not. Furthermore, in some of the close
vote counts noted above, capturing back the split votes would
have put candidates over the top.

COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) It is ironic that the opposition parties only
finally came together in an ad-hoc coalition when the
election was done and the reality stood before them that they
had eaten away at each other, province by province. The
grand coalition that could have offered the Cambodian people
a different vision -- to tackle corruption and promote key
economic sector development, revitalize education and restore
trust in a failing health system -- now stands in front of
the people to grouse about results that were for the most
part their own doing. Given this reality, it is unlikely the
opposition will maintain its current solidarity. There is
already talk of "two FUNCINPECs" and of Nhiek Bunchhay
joining the CPP. In conversations with opposition leaders,
post will suggest that performing a more constructive role in
the National Assembly might be one goal for the opposition to
serve its voters and promote Cambodia's development.
MUSSOMELI

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