The UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac) has certified that the election was free and fair. It is treating the warnings by the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, as a heavy-handed attempt to exert pressure rather than a serious threat, but they highlight the difficulty of persuading the Phnom Penh government, with its control of the armed forces and the bureaucracy, to yield power.
Some fear a repetition of the situation in Angola, where a successful election was followed by a resumption of the civil war because the losers refused to accept the result.
Mr Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) took 38 per cent of the votes, and 51 seats in the national assembly, to the 45 per cent and 58 seats gained by the royalist Funcinpec party. The 120-member assembly has three months to draw up a constitution before forming a government. Both parties accept they will have to work together, but neither is willing to take a subordinate role.
Supporters of the CPP, including armed soldiers and police, have demonstrated against the UN in two provinces this week. Mr Hun Sen claimed yesterday these were spontaneous, saying: 'I can no longer control the situation. Those in the lower ranks don't have the same views as us. At this moment a number of provinces have decided to secede, and to reject the result of the election and refuse to listen to anybody.' The government says as many as six provinces in the east and north-east might be ready to break away.
The head of Untac, Yasushi Akashi, said talk of breakaway provinces was 'a move to attain certain objectives'.
Mr Hun Sen's efforts to create alarm appear to be directed mainly at the country's former ruler, Prince Norodom Sihanouk. All sides accept there is little chance of a peaceful settlement without the 70-year-old Prince, but he is smarting after his attempt to form a coalition government last week fell apart within hours.
He wanted to give the CPP and Funcinpec equal power, but his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who leads Funcinpec, complained that Prince Sihanouk was being stampeded by Phnom Penh's veiled threats into giving away too much.