Saturday, 26 July 2008

Hun Sen riding high into election

By The Nation
Published on July 26, 2008

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is likely to expand his parliamentary majority in tomorrow's general election.

His Cambodian People's Party has gained in popularity thanks largely to Cambodia's booming economy, which has recorded average growth of 10.6 per cent over the past few years. The Hun Sen government has successfully invited a high level of foreign direct investment into the country thanks to its investment friendly policy. Bloomberg news agency reported that foreign investment is on pace to double from US$2.7 billion (Bt90.5 billion) this year, citing figures from the Council for Development of Cambodia, a government investment-promotion agency. This is despite the fact that growth prospects might decelerate because of higher inflation.

In addition, the Hun Sen government's handling of the Preah Vihear conflict should have pleased Cambodian voters. The Cambodian government has thus far made shrewd political moves to win the sympathy of the international community concerning its successful bid to have Preah Vihear listed as a world heritage site.

His government's successes should enable Hun Sen to win 81 seats as his party has targeted. During the 2003 election, Hun Sen's party won 73 of the country's 123 parliamentary seats. If his party's target is met, the Cambodia People's Party will continue to hold a firm grip on the House.

Just as in Thailand, the Preah Vihear issue has been politicised. Emotions in both countries are running high as the issue has stoked nationalistic sentiments.

The Hun Sen government has so far trumped Thailand with its moves. Phnom Penh has gone on the offensive, raising the case with Asean and the United Nations, while the Thai government has been left caught off guard.

Nonetheless, there was a welcome development on Thursday. According to Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, Hun Sen has decided to postpone his request for UN intervention and agreed to send the Cambodian foreign minister to Siem Reap to discuss a resolution to the recent border conflict with his Thai counterpart on Monday.

It's no coincidence that the crucial meeting will be held one day after the general election in Cambodia. After the election, the Cambodian government may feel less burdened by domestic politics and in a better position to discuss the matter with Thailand. The suggestion for there to be a new round of talks shows there's light at the end of the tunnel and that both sides are now ready to cooperate. We hope that relations between the two countries will improve after Monday's meeting.

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