PHNOM PENH — ; Cambodia's legislature has formally approved a new coalition government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The vote comes nearly a year after an inconclusive general election left the country in a political stalemate, but opposition MPs boycotted the vote.
"I have no hope that the government will help improve living conditions of poor people like me because I see that the head of government is the same Hun Sen and his cabinet ..."
The National Assembly approved Hun Sen and the newly formed coalition between his Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the royalist Funcinpec party under a new law that allows legislators to approve all positions in a single vote. That includes the prime minister, seven deputy prime ministers, fifteen state ministers, ministers and secretaries of state for 26 ministries, and assembly president.
Previously, each post required a separate vote. Hun Sen pressed for the new approval process to ensure his own continued role as prime minister. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party called the law " a constitutional coup" and its 24 MPs boycotted the vote.
The vote paves the way for Cambodia's parliament to tackle a mountain of backlogged legislation, including bills allowing a UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal to proceed and accession to the World Trade Organization.
On the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodians urged the new cabinet to tackle poverty and corruption as a primary order of business. But they weren't optimistic.
"I have no hope that the government will help improve living conditions of poor people like me because I see that the head of government is the same Hun Sen and his cabinet members are the same faces too. Nothing has changed," Kang Sarin, a driver in the capital, told RFA's Khmer service.
"The price of rice, fuel, and fish, and other commodities, just gets higher. It's killing the poor indirectly. How am I supposed to survive and feed my family?"
Khieu Chok, a retired teacher, 71, voiced relief that a new government had been formed but voiced similar worries. "To end corruption, protect sovereignty, end illegal logging and illegal immigration depends on a sincere commitment from the new government," he said. "But I see that the leader only cares about personal interests and exploits [his position] so that the poor get worse and worse by the day."
"Nothing will get better," said one woman, a slum-dweller in her 50s who asked not to be named. "It is difficult... All commodities, fuel, rice, fish, pork... are high priced too. How can I earn money to feed my family?"
"I don't trust the new government at all because I don't see any success in bringing prices down," she said. "People are banned from protesting. Please, new government, help the poor so that I am happy. ... I have 10 children — ; I have to earn money to feed them today and I have to earn more another day to feed them another day, and it's very hard."
A Hun Sen-led caretaker government has run Cambodia since last July's general election. His party topped the polls but failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to rule alone.
Funcinpec, which came in second, initially refused to join Hun Sen, accusing him of corruption, autocratic behavior and mismanagement. But after months of on-and-off negotiations, the two parties set aside their differences late last month and agreed to form a coalition.
Hun Sen, a Khmer Rouge defector who has been in power for nearly 20 years and is one of the world's longest serving leaders, paid tribute to Funcinpec's Prince Norodom Ranariddh despite the pair having an uneasy working history.
"The prince is a partner who has shown intelligence and bravery... in seeking a political resolution for the nation and the Cambodian people," he told MPs. "I am confident that with this strong partnership, the activities and the efficiency of national institutions... will be promoted in a new level."
The cabinet line-up remains largely unchanged for Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), although as expected, the royalists named new faces to most of their ministerial posts.
Following a tense week in Cambodia that saw acting head of state Chea Sim whisked out of the country under heavy police guard when he refused to sign off on the disputed voting law, security around parliament was extremely tight.