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.

How to Cement your Grip on Power


Partyforumseasia: Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (17541838), the French statesman and diplomat, held high positions through the French revolution, the Napoleonic era, and the Vienna Congress. He was famous for his political skills, flexibility, and venality. In a well-known bon mot he is quoted as saying that the farewell from power is the most painful farewell in the world. Two political leaders in Southeast Asia, the Prime Ministers of Cambodia and Malaysia, Hun Sen and Najib Razak, seem to feel like Talleyrand and try to avoid losing the upcoming elections at any price.
Strongman Hun Sen has successfully destroyed the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in the last few months. Driving the original leader, Sam Rainsy, into exile, and imprisoning Sam’s deputy and successor, Kem Sokha, was not enough for him. With his CPP-majority in parliament, he had no problem tweaking the party law and had the CNRP dissolved by the constitutional court. More CNRP leaders preferred to escape into self-exile before being detained.
The background and final motif of Prime Minister Hun Sen might be the conviction, based on findings of his intelligence apparatus, that the election coming up in 2018 is not going to be a sure win, and that there is a groundswell against his 32-year authoritarian rule. The local elections in June showed massive gains of the opposition CNRP, and revealed that the ruling party had not even secured the votes of all CPP party members. After getting the opposition out of the way, most of their parliamentary seats have been given to the Norodom Ranariddh Party, which had been wiped out in the 2013 election.
The political cost on the international level might grow in the meantime. Apart from Hun’s  loss of face and the already dented image, the EU is considering sanctions which could hurt Cambodia’s textile imdustry, one of the country’s important cash cows. The Prime Minister seems to count on closer relations and support from the big neighbour China as a handy way of balancing the loss of Western funding, as massive as it was hitherto.

The Malaysian case is similar in the way that Prime Minister Najib Razak is all out to reduce or prevent the challenge of an opposition win in the elections due by August 2018 latest, but possible any time earlier at the discretion of the prime minister. When the unprecedented corruption scandal around Najib, his stepson, and his UMNO party, broke out in 2015, with 682 million US$ found in his private accounts, not many observers beleived in his political survival. But his cold-blooded survival instinct, as well as his absolute control over the country’s finances, since he is finance minister as well, seems to have cemented his grip on power and his unchallenged leadership position in the party.
Dividing or destroying the opposition is a game of Najib which is more sophisticated than the one in Cambodia. The opposition coalition, so far, does not seem united enough to seriously challenge UMNO and its Barisan Nasional coalition. The most charismatic opponent, Anwar Ibrahim, already 70, is still in prison on a controversial conviction for sodomy. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is fighting Najib relentlessly, but at 92, Najib does not take him too seriously any more. Finally, the long-term rival party PAS, an Islamic party with the same vote banks as UMNO among pious and rural Malays, has left the opposition and is now closer to Najib. Vilifying the biggest opposition party, the Chinese dominated DAP, as anti-Malay and anti-Islam, is another promising strategy of the Prime Minister and UMNO president. Obviously, the heavy lopsided gerrymandering which just got the Appeal Court’s green light for further fine tuning, is not seen as a sufficient life insurance. All these manoeuvres, like in Cambodia, betray at least that the leaders have some doubts about their winnability, but, of course, the determination to win at any cost.

Talleyrand, if he could observe this, would understand the two: losing power would be too painful for them and their cronies…

ASEAN’s Wild East: Opposition Lawmakers Again Beaten Up in Phnom Penh


Partyforumseasia: While Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the US-ASEAN meeting in California and ignores exile opposition protests against him in the USA, the life for opposition lawmakers at home is getting more and more dangerous. Words can hardly describe the brutality of thugs beating two CNRP MP’s unconscious in front of Cambodia’s parliament. This is why we refer to the following video link from The Phnom Penh Post (16.02.2016):
CNRP 2

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/video/cnrp-lawmakers-beaten
To watch the video click CTRL + click on the above URL or behind it.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had asked the government for police and security protection but the intimidation continues. See an earlier post published October 27th, 2015.      Link: No Velvet Gloves in Phnom Penh

Since it is rather improbable that the thugs are doing their dirty job because of strong political convictions, guesses about who gives them the orders and pays them are allowed. The next election will be only in 2018, but a strong and popular opposition CNRP is being seen as a serious challenge to the long rule of the Cambodian People’s Party and its supreme leader…