How to Create a Loyal Opposition


Partyforumseasia: Call it drama or saga, Prime Minister Hun Sen continues to get rid of the CNRP opposition because he is not sure that he would win the next general election if it is free and fair. His survival instinct is stronger than the CNRP wanted to believe, though they should have known him better. In the newest twist of the story, Hun Sen calls on the opposition MPs to defect in time before the impending dissolution of their party by the Supreme Court on 16th November. Singapore’s Straits Times on 5 November quotes Mr. Hun Sen as follows:
I want to give you this opportunity to continue in your job… It will not only be that the party is dissolved and then the matter is finished. Maybe more than 100 people will be banned from politics for five years.
The CNRP is accused of treason in collusion with the USA in order to overthrow the government led by Hun Sen and his Cambodian Peole’s Party (CPP). One by one, the CNRP leaders have been intimidated, beaten up, forced into exile, like former leader Sam Rainsy, or imprisoned and accused of treason like Kem Sokha. Their “crimes” are above all to dream of taking over the government, and winning too many mandates in the national and recently the local elections. Like many leaders all over the world who are used to power, and Hun Sen is by now with 32 years the longest serving prime minister, he as not the least intention to retire.
The official trigger for Kem Sokha‘s indictment was a video from 2013, in which he allegedly discusses with US-counterparts how to win the next election. Not only for Americans it sounds rather legitimate and normal for an opposition party to dream of taking over after winning the election.

Ironically, to warn and threaten the opposition, Prime Minister Hun Sen has used a speech on the anniversary of the Paris Peace Accord of 1991 which established a multi-party democratic system in Cambodia. This democratic big bang was what the Western signatories believed and accordingly pampered the CPP-regime with generous development aid, regularly pledging more millions than the government was asking for. Interfering now in support of the CNRP seems to be out of the question, of course.
The opposition, especially Sam Rainsy and his party with the same name, and merger partner Human Rights Party under Kem Sokha, who formed the CNRP in 2012, have become somewhat overoptimistic with their rising popularity and election success and rhetorically more aggressive. Getting their funding to a certain degree from the Cambodian diaspora abroad, and supported by American and European pro-democracy NGOs and the Western embassies in Phnom Penh, their optimism and self-confidence may have seduced them to underestimate Hun Sen’s resolve to stay in command. He is preparing his son Hun Manet as a possible successor, and his extended family has much to lose as well. Global Witness, a London-based NGO, reports that the family has registered interests in 114 private domestic companies,   mostly as chairpersons, directors or major shareholders. When Hun Sen first declared his assets in 2011, he was quoted as saying that besides his official salary of 13,800 USD per year he hadn’t any other income…

Cambodia: Who is a Traitor decides the Dictator


Partyforumseasia:     Opposition leader Kem Sokha detained for “treason”.
Lately, we have been reporting about Cambodia relatively often. The last few headlines were not positive, neither for the opposition nor the the ruling CPP: April 30, 2016: Party Competition Cambodian Style, October 14, 2016: Cambodia’s Opposition Getting More Sticks and no Carrots, January 2, 2017: Final Blow for Cambodian Opposition?, June 28, 2017: Cambodia’s Commune Elections – Final Results Not Really Glorious for the CPP.
Don’t blame pessimism in politics, it can always turn from bad to worse:
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy had been driven into exile in 2016 and practically forced to resign as chairman of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) because a new legislation allowed the suspension of the CNRP under a “convicted” leader. Even all his pictures had to be removed under the new law. Deputy chairman Kem Sokha took over and continued to prepare the party for the general election due by next year.
But Hun Sen, in power since 1985 and one of the longest serving prime ministers worldwide, seems to be nervous about his ruling party’s victory in 2018 and determined to do whatever it takes to continue his rule. He is only 65 by now, which is no retirement age for politicians. Known much more for his iron fist than for velvet gloves, Mr. Hun Sen has initiated a series of measures to guarantee that he stays in control. The newest was the arrest of Kem Sokha, Sunday morning, 3 September, 12:30 am at his home by 100 policemen and sent to a prison 200 km away from Phnom Penh. Prime Minister Hun Sen was quoted as explaining the urgency: “The treason of colluding with foreigners to betray the nation requires {us} to make an immediate arrest”. The foreigners, also called “the third hand”, are the USA who, like it or not, do have a tendency to promote their idea of democracy by intervention and regime change, which is certainly not always popular in the recipient countries. In the case of Cambodia, the US supported the coup of general Lon Nol which ousted the late king Sihanouk in 1970. It is no secret that the US and European countries who have supported Cambodia with billions of development aid have been disappointed with the Hun Sen administration’s resistance against crucial domestic reforms.
Kem Sokha, who has already endured legal attacks over an alleged extramarital affair last year, is known for his very balanced and conciliatory personality. But as an experienced politician and human rights activist, he is also a good campaign speaker, and, of course, his aim as opposition leader is no less than winning the upcoming election. That is normal and completely legitimate.

Other measures of PM Hun Sen are complementing the arrest of Sokha:

An attack on press freedom: With a surprise tax bill of over six million USD, the 24 year old English language “Cambodia Daily” feels forced to close down immediately.

A CPP internal party purge: End of August a leaked secret paper informed about a party-internal exercise to review the attitude and reliablity of the CPP’s 5,370,313 members, no less than 68 percent of the nation’s 7.8 million registered voters. Many, especially the bloated civil service, have been expected or forced to join. All reliable members will get a new membership card after passing the personal screening by a party team.

If the CPP should have any remaining Communist elements, the party purge reminds of the infamous Lenin quotation “Trust is good, but control is better”...

 

 

Cambodia’s Commune Elections – Final Results Not Really Glorious for the CPP


Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Hun Sen’s once famous iron grip on power is increasingly showing fatigue. Ruling as Prime Minister for 32 years and approaching a normal retirement age of 65 coming August, Hun Sen is by no means prepared to give up, and certainly not inclined to see the main opposition party CNRP take over. The official results of the 4 June commune elections have just been released by the National Election Committee, and the Prime Minister’s reactions are telling.
Driving his potential personal nemesis, long-term CNRP leader and rival Sam Rainsy into exile by debatable accusations and convictions, Hun Sen has once again pulled out all authoritarian campaign stops by threatening turmoil and civil war in case the CNRP would win. There were also reports that truckloads of soldiers were sent into “shaky” constituencies to tip the scale in favour of the ruling CPP. But, and that is not self-evident, the election was overall peaceful and well organised.
The results show at the surface a dominant ruling party but the details are not promising for a continued dominance in the 2018 general election.

Despite all the intimidation, the popular vote difference between CPP and CNRP, 50.8% to 43.8% or just 7%, is not really a fantastic victory for the ruling party and PM Hun Sen. His campaign rhetoric, to be fair, has probably been influenced by the self-predicted chances of the CNRP to win and take over the communes, especially the continuing provocative statements of Sam Rainsy in exile. All that can be taken as election and campaign fever which happens often enough anywhere.
The signs, however, that Hun Sen feels “touché” are coming up now after the official results are finally out.

Even for a battle-hardened politician like Mr Hun Sen who has never been known for velvet gloves and mincing his words, his statements during the last few days sound extraordinary. On 21 June, during an emotional re-enactment of his crossing over to Vietnam and defecting from the Khmer Rouge in 1977, the Prime Minister “suddenly took a sharp turn in his mood to quell any confusion about his recent warnings of renewed (civil) war and appeared to directly threaten to kill present-day political opponents. “Your tongues will be the motive for the war,” Hun Sen said, in an apparent reference to the opposition. “If you all keep talking about insults and the threats to kill, you all must prepare your coffins already.”
(The Phnom Penh Post 22 June, LINK)

But the ageing battle horse also proves to draw correct conclusions from the progress of Cambodia’s opposition. Since all including the drastic coffin threats don’t seem to be reliably effective, Hun Sen has started to look into the shortcomings of his own CPP. In a speech on 26 June at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh, he criticised the arrogance of power of CPP office holders: “The people’s dissatisfaction stems from our behaviour,” and “Please pay attention to your wives and children.” (The Cambodia Daily, 27 June. LINK)
The Prime Minister mentioned several cases where wives or children of higher officials had been saved from judicial prosecution despite severe offences. Impunity of those in power is always causing resentment among the voters, especially in a country where status symbols like big villas and big SUVs are easily equated with the political upper-class among the CPP members.

The 2018 parliamentary election will show whether threats and self-criticism can save the ruling party for another term. The younger generations (the median age is 24!) have no memories of and little interest in the bloody Khmer Rouge past of Cambodia. But they need jobs and career perspectives and may set their hopes more on the CNRP and its liberal economic programs than on the CPP with its old-fashioned image and ageing leadership.

 

Hun Sen vs Sam Rainsy: The Double Emergency Brake?


Partyforumseasia: The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CRNP) has come under the threat of being dissolved by an imminent amendment of the party law introduced by the Prime Minister, and targeting parties led by “convicted criminals”. Both CNRP leaders, Sam Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha, are being prosecuted in a series of rather dubious lawsuits for alleged “crimes” from adultery to defamation, and Sam Rainsy has already chosen self-exile in France to avoid imprisonment at home. His resignation as party leader last Saturday leads to the following question:

Is the resignation his emergency brake to save the party from being dissolved by the Hun Sen government, or is it Hun Sen’s emergency brake to prevent the opposition CNRP from growing too strong and unseating him in the upcoming election?

Cambodia CompromisePower struggles are normal in political systems where elections can make a difference, and long-term leaders like Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is in office since 1985, with all the sweeping powers he can enjoy, are normally not easily tired and preparing for retirement, though turning 65 this year.
His ferocious fight against the CNRP and its two leading figures, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, plus many of the other members of parliament during the last months, reveals an unusual determination to destroy the opposition once and for all.
From his presumable point of view, Hun Sen’s frustration with Sam Rainsy and the CNRP, it is not completely unjustified. There is a tangible groundswell against the ruling CPP, especially among the younger Cambodians who are tired of Hun Sen’s authoritarian policies and the corruption of the establishment. And the CNRP has enjoyed great popularity among the neglected masses who are widely excluded from economic progress, especially in the rural areas where especially Kem Sokha is a very appealing speaker. Sam Rainsy is not a timid character mincing his words, on the contrary, he likes to harp on how his party will take over. So Hun Sen is probably regretting to have facilitated Rainsy’s return from exile just before the 2013 election and his welcoming handshake.
And to answer the second part of the initial question whether Rainsy intends to protect the party by stepping down: He certainly has this intention, but very probably not for giving up his ambition to be the next prime minister of Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Opposition Getting More Sticks and no Carrots


Partyforumseasia: Samdech Akeak Moha Sena Padey Techo Hun Sen ( or Lord Prime Minister, Supreme Military Commander Hun Sen in English) in office (or better in power) since 1985, is one of the longest serving leaders in Southeast Asia and the hun-senworld. It would be an understatement to say that he is dominating Cambodia’s political scene for more than thirty years. His control of the country is quasi total, but maybe not so easy to maintain. The autocrat par excellence is being challenged by the the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which is popular with the younger generation and all those who are victimized by the regimes repression. Huge parts of Cambodian land have been given away as long term concessions without much concern for the people living there and losing their livelihood. While the regime’s cronies and the bureaucracy flaunt their affluence shamelessly with grandiose villas and “Lexus” in big characters on the sides of their SUVs, the majority is struggling and the cheap workforce is being exploited with difficult working conditions and insufficient salaries.
The CNRP, under the leadership of former finance minister Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha has managed to organize the party nation wide by addressing the problems of the people and the shortcomings of the status quo, thus being perceived as a threat not only to the existing Hun Sen regime  but also to the Prime Minister’s obvious plans to install his eldest son, Hun Manet, as heir apparent.

The Prime Minister’s defense-strategy, in tune with his adventurous biography from Khmer Rouge commander via exile in Vietnam and a cunning march to the top, is anything but gentle. His thugs have intimidated and manhandled opposition politicians and supporters again and again, but following a Southeast Asian pattern, he is also making use of a judicial facade to neutralize the opposition. The CNRP-leaders are both under extreme pressure, Sam Rainsy living in self-imposed exile in Paris to avoid imprisonment at home under a long list of rather dubious accusations, and Kem Sokha, under ever new legal threats,  trying to avoid detention as well. The newest law suit against Sam Rainsy alleges that Rainsy committed “incitement” and caused “social turmoil” on September 11 by addressing youth activists gathered at the party’s Phnom Penh headquarters via Skype.

cambodia-cnrpThe latest intimidation exercise, on 10 October, is a two and a half year prison term for CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An  for Facebook posts criticizing the government’s handling of the Vietnamese border. This looks more like a lèse-majesté  case than a fair legal sentence, but the Hun Sen regime has never bothered about velvet gloves.
Um Sam An was arrested already in April and the protest of the party ignored. The Phnom Penh Post’s comment (LINK) was telling:
Parliamentary immunity has been no obstacle for police in the past, however, and government officials on Monday were quick to assert that they were within their rights in arresting Sam An, citing a constitutional clause that allows for the prosecution of a lawmaker if they are caught “in flagrante delicto”, or in the act of committing a crime.”

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Party Competition Cambodian Style – No Impunity At The End?


Partyforumseasia: In February we had last commented on the ongoing brutality against opposition members  in Cambodia’s Parliament. While CNRP leader Sam Rainsy is in exile again and a well orchestrated campaign is trying to destroy his deputy Kem Sokha over an alleged extramarital affair, there is a not really expected follow-up to the brutal beatings of CNRP members in front of parliament.
The thugs were masked and escaped easily under the eyes of police deployed in front of the Parliament building. It all looked like the usual impunity for many dubious happenings under supervision and responsibility of the ruling party and its government. The traditionally rather indulgent international observers and embassies in Phnom Penh are getting more vocal with their protest, but with traditionally little results on the Cambodian side.
But, surprise, surprise, now the authorities have identified and indicted some of the thugs who beat up the unprotected parliamentarians:
Image 2Under the headline “Of 16 who assaulted MPs, only three, all Bodyguard Unit members, face trial” the Phnom Penh Post (Link) gives the latest details. The three accused are all “members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal Bodyguard Unit – while additional evidence suggests further involvement by the elite unit.”

At least three (scapegoats?) indicted, but the whole scheme highlighted. That is not party competition but partisan warfare. Political hardball is quite common in Southeast Asia, but even a lot harder in Cambodia. Let’s wait for the justice system for results and final assessment.

Cambodian Opposition Fights Back With IT-Solutions


Partyforumseasia: The peaceful handover from a military junta to a victorious opposition in Myanmar notwithstanding, Southeast Asian domestic politics is hardball from the textbook. Eliminating opposition when it develops into dangerous competition is not the most elegant or democratic way of staying in power, but it works. Challengers easily land in prison, like Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, or in exile, like Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand, and Sam Rainsy in Cambodia. Neither of these standard solutions can completely silence them, though. Especially the exile solution is being undermined by advanced communication technology. The Phnom Penh Post (31.8.2016, LINK) gives an example of opposition leader Sam Rainsy addressing a group of followers at home via Skype from his exile in Paris:
rainsy-page-3
The CNRP opposition, obviously seen as too dangerous by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP ruling party, has come under growing pressure by a remarkable arsenal of “torture instruments”. It’s lawmakers are being beaten up outside Parliament by thugs difficult to identify, Sam Rainsy prefers to stay in Paris because an older defamation lawsuit has been warmed up. The court refuses to hear his arguments via Skype and insists that he has to appear in person. With a string of other lawsuits and convictions pending, two years for defaming foreign minister Hor Namhong in 2008, a potential 17-year sentence for forgery and incitement, and other defamation suits, he understandably prefers to stay abroad.

Legally more than dubious, as the Phnom Penh Post reported on 30 March, the chief of Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit threatened to investigate Sam Rainsy for corruption “if he continues to speak out against the graft case (Link) currently levelled at his deputy, Kem Sokha.”  Trying to silence a politician by threatening another investigation is indeed a desperate level of political competition.

CNRP vice president Kem Sokha is under a very different type of pressure. Based on a  number of taped phone calls with alleged mistresses the media are reporting for weeks already about a so called “infidelity scandal” while Kem Sokha and the supposed mistresses deny the relationships. It is not infidelity alone, alleged are also expensive presents like money and a house. While it is unclear why students might want to demonstrate against the popular politician as they are reported to do, the manoeuvre looks like a good old character assassination.

The whole campaign against the opposition signals the threat and growing insecurity felt in the  ruling party. “Neutralizing” the top leaders of the opposition in time before the next general election, due only by July 2018, may work, but especially the younger generation of Cambodians signals less patience with the CPP-Hun Sen rule. The ongoing brutality against the CNRP might produce a bigger backlash than expected.

 

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…

 

 

 

Cambodia’s Funcinpec Party Revived by China?


Partyforumseasia: រណសិរ្សបង្រួប បង្រួមជាតិដើម្បីកម្ពុជាឯករាជ្យ អព្យាក្រិត សន្តិភាព និងសហប្រតិបត្តិការ. This royalist Cambodian party is better known as FUNCINPEC or “Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif” in French, and “National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia” in English.
After winning the UN sponsored 1993 elections and being outmaneuvered by Hun Sen , the party kept shrinking but was kept alive as appendix of the Cambodian People’s Party. In the 2013 election it did not win a single mandate and looked more or less obsolete. In the local perception its image is tainted by the appendix role. Monday, 20 April, the deputy leader of the opposition CNRP, Kem Sokha, declared his party’s dialogue with the ruling party as “We’re not Funcinpec”.

SihanoukMaoOld friendship lasting: Sihanouk and Mao meeting in Beijing in 1971

After years of internal bickering and infighting, corruption allegations and leadership struggles, it might be too early to write Funcinpec off for good. On 20 April The Cambodian Daily  (link here) reports: “Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh and second vice president Nhiek Bun Chhay left for China on Sunday to meet with officials from the Chinese Communist Party, the Cambodian royalist party’s longtime benefactor and supporter. China has provided financial support to Funcinpec since it was founded in 1981 by Prince Norodom Sihanouk as an armed resistance against the government in Phnom Penh, and today continues to provide the party with basic funds and political training.”
Prince Norodom Ranariddh declared before the departure of the delegation that Funcinpec’s role is by the side of the CPP in contrast to the opposition CNRP. This revives the old suspicion that Prime Minister Hun Sen is using this small ally and the prestige of the monarchy against the growing weight of the opposition.
Strategy-wise:
1. The history of former king Sihanouk’s (1922-2012) friendly relations with China is rather unusual. The communist regime has hosted and supported the monarch by providing him exile in Beijing from 1970 after he was ousted by the Lon Nol coup. In an undated interview with China Central TV Sihanouk quotes Mao Zedong: “
There are some in the world who say that Communists have no love for Princes. We the Chinese Communists, however, both love and esteem a Prince like Norodom Sihanouk who has always been so close, so loyal and so dedicated to his people.”
But there are more mundane motives as well. Among other economic interests,
long term concessions on arable land in Cambodia add to China’s food security.

2. The international cooperation of political parties is anything but transparent. For the Western efforts to promote democracy, sometimes called “party support industry”, there is sufficient criticism, not least internally. The Cambodia Daily article reveals quite interesting details about the nature of the cooperation:
Funcinpec leaders revealed last year that the Chinese Communist Party continued to provide annual training to civil servants and youth members of the party, as well as giving them electric bicycles and petty cash to pay for office rental and amenities.”

Cambodia: Sam Rainsy Back Home to Challenge Hun Sen?


RainsyPartyforumseasia: Yesterday, 7 July 2013, Sam Rainsy has announced his return to Cambodia.  See his Facebook page.

The country will be going to the polls on 28 July and – as usual – Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is expected to win big. The long term ruling party is well prepared with a total penetration of the administration and its control of media and economy. Could opposition leader Sam Rainsy be Hun Sen’s nemesis this time? Rainsy lives in exile since 2009 to avoid imprisonment up to eleven years after a dubious conviction, but the internet allows him constant contact with his party. And this time the opposition has managed to unite in the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Sam Rainsy is the only Cambodian politician with the format and popularity to challenge PM Hun Sen, whose official title is as impressive as his long term grip on power: “The Noble, Supreme, Great, and All Powerful Commander-in-Chief, Prime Minister Hun Sen”. But many Cambodians resent the cronyism and corruption of the CPP regime and the evident nepotism in the Prime Minister’s family.

Hun Sen