As a communist nation, party and governmental positions were equally important in Cambodian politics. The 1993 constitution defined the political system as a multiparty democracy with separate legislative, executive, and judicial powers. In spite of this, Cambodia remained largely authoritarian, with power centered in personalities rather than institutions. While Ranariddh was able to wrap himself in the symbolism of royalty and tradition, Hun Sen had to appeal to populism. Considered to be a fiery orator, he conveyed an aura of competence. Most analysts considered him to be enthusiastic, intelligent, and sincere. He was also viewed as being a shrewd politician who understood the importance of political alliances and the practicalities of governing.
On 7 July 1997, Hun Sen staged a bloody coup, and Ranariddh was ousted from power. International criticism, including an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) decision to defer Cambodia's admission, led to strained foreign relations and a poor international image after the coup. Western nations suspended foreign aid and refused to recognize the Hun Sen government. International pressure forced Hun Sen to hold national elections on 27 July 1998 in order to legitimize his government.
Hun Sen's CPP won over half of the votes cast, securing 64 of 122 National Assembly seats. However, it lacked the two-thirds majority of parliamentary seats necessary to form a government. Hun Sen was forced to enter into negotiations with Ranariddh's royalist FUNCINPEC party, which had won the second-largest percentage of the vote. An agreement to form a coalition government was reached and approved by the National Assembly on 1 December 1998, after months of political uncertainty and civil strife. According to the terms of the agreement, Ranariddh is the assembly president while Hun Sen is the sole premier and recognized ruler of Cambodia. The coalition government did not decrease Hun Sen's tendency towards autocratic behavior. Political and media opponents been barely tolerated, and have often been severely harassed, and Hun Sen has interfered with the workings of the judicial system.