Cambodia’s Ersatz Opposition

Partyforumseasia:  Like him or not, Cambodia’s eternal Prime Minister Hun Sen has always new ideas to find a way out. Some called the election victory of his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) end of July a landslide, others a charade because the main opposition party had been banned and its two leaders neutralized, one in exile and the other in prison. But unlike former Prime Minister Najib Razak in Malaysia who may have seen the defeat coming but decided not to believe it, Hun Sen took all the unpopular precautions to prevent it. This strategy was probably even more efficient than he himself wanted it to be. The CPP won all 125 seats of Parliament, the 19 smaller opposition parties none, leaving the leader in the somewhat embarrassing situation that the desired democratic mimicry has disappeared. But never underestimate Hun Sen, he always finds a way out. He now wants democracy and opposition views and establishes the “Supreme Council of Consultation”, inviting all the losers and even offering advisory posts in several ministries. Some parties declined or hesitated to participate, but after all, on September 21st, there are 16 opposition parties attending the first meeting which host Hun Sen praises as a step toward a “culture of dialogue”.

The first meeting of the Supreme Council of Consultation in Phnom Penh

Cambodian observers interpret the establishment of the Consultation Council as a move to avoid the stigma of one-party rule and to show a semblance of democratic debate to meet more demanding domestic expectations, especially with the young generation,  with nearly 50% of Cambodians being under 24.

As to the eliminated CNRP leaders: Sam Rainsy might have overdone his opposition role from abroad by calling in vain for vote abstention and even an uprising against Hun Sen. There are doubts whether he will ever be allowed to come back at all. And Kem Sokha, the less emotional but equally charismatic CNRP-leader, remains in prison for alleged conspiracy with US support, while other CNRP members got a royal pardon and were released from prison.

Economic sanctions by the US and the EU, both critical of the election results,  might harm Cambodia’s economy, but Hun Sen feels on the safe side with the backing of China. Decades of massive Western support for a democratic Cambodia seem to be wasted.

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