Tue, 25 Oct 1994

The Cambodian shakeup

In a government characterized by stasis, Sam Rainsy stood out as one of the few figures in Cambodia with the ability to get things done.

During his short reign as finance minister he presented Cambodia with its first balanced budget, introduced an investment law, helped put a cap on inflation, stabilized the riel and launched a campaign to clean up the country's corruption-riddled customs service.

Abroad, Rainsy was lionized by the international donor community as one of Cambodia's most able and honest administrators. At home, he was equally popular among the small people.

According to an opinion poll taken last month he was the most respected minister in the country.

Further, he had the backing of Cambodia's revered monarch, King Norodom Sihanouk, who only last week warned the country's fragile economic recovery would be jeopardized if Rainsy was replaced.

In Cambodia's zero sum style of politics, however, it made him a marked man. And on Thursday, Rainsy's tenure at the Finance Ministry came to an end when he was removed in a Cabinet reshuffle.

First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh said the change would result in a more unified government.

Rainsy was faulted for creating friction between the royalist Funcinpec party and their old enemies the Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP) and also between the finance and commerce ministries.

According to some reports, Ranariddh may go as far as to expel Rainsy from Funcinpec in a bid to rid Cambodian politics of his crusading personality.

Even if these reports are true, it is unlikely that we have seen the last Sam Rainsy. Trained as an accountant, Rainsy's true calling, though, is governing.

Politics, especially dissident politics, is in his blood and he wont be walking away willingly.

But much will depend on what kind of political system the country's current leadership is intent on bequeathing Cambodia. If it is Cambodia's traditional crush-and-rule style, then Rainsy and the country, is in trouble.

But if Funcinpec and Hun Sen can see the wisdom to allow an open and vigorous style of democracy, that has room for mavericks such as Rainsy, then the future of Cambodia looks bright.

-- The Nation, Bangkok