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.

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.

 

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.”

From Cambodian People’s Party to Hun Sen Party ?


Partyforumseasia: The three day (30 Jan – 1 Feb) party congress of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been described as dominated by self-criticism by The Cambodia Daily (Link here). A “classified” 26-page self-critical report, seemingly obtained by the newspaper from a participant, lists the shortcomings of party and government which led to the massive setback in the 2013 general election. As main culprit it pinpoints the bad implementation of ‘what the CPP says were “very good policies for every sector.”
The report continues: “Secondly, misconduct such as corruption, nepotism, the abuse of power, big gaps between upper and lower-level officials, between government officials and the people, between rich and poor, the lack of confidence in the judicial system, inequality, the effectiveness of the implementation of laws which remains so limited, the issue of public services, land and forest issues…made people lose trust in our leadership.”
Hun Sen Clan
The Hun Sen dynasty is growing

But self-criticism of nepotism has not prevented strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen to promote his three sons to higher party ranks:

“CAMBODIA’S ruling party named three sons of long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen to its upper ranks on Sunday as part of a bid to rejuvenate its leadership and claw back support lost at the last general election.
The elevation of Hun Sen’s sons within the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has fuelled speculation the 62-year-old strongman is positioning his dynasty to succeed him after 30 years in power and triggered at least one accusation of nepotism.
The Brunei Times (Link here) is taking this up from Reuters.

Embedded in a huge increase of central committee members, PM Hun Sen is obviously preparing his own succession after 30 years in power though he is only 62 years old: “The additional 306 members more than doubled the committee’s size to 545.
The new committee members include not just Hun Sen’s sons and son-in-law, but also the commander of his personal bodyguard unit, Phnom Penh’s police chief, the military police chief and the naval commander — all powerful loyalists.
Hun Manet, 37, the oldest son and heir apparent, graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1999. Now a three-star general, he leads Cambodia’s national counterterrorism task force and is deputy commander of his father’s much-feared Bodyguards Unit.
The second son, Hun Manith, 34, is a brigadier general, while the youngest, Hun Many, 31, is a lawmaker and head of the CPP youth movement.
“Hun Sen has been planning and plotting the succession plan for a long time,” said independent political analyst Ou Virak.
“The real power will be with the eldest son.” (The Brunei Times)

Whether these results of the party congress will convince the opposition CNRP and its voters remains to be seen.

Compromise in Cambodia, Deadlock in Thailand?


Partyforumseasia:  Yesterday The Phnom Penh Post surprised with reporting on a possible compromise between PM Hun Sen and the opposition led by Sam Rainsy:
Cambodia 14.1.14

Hun SamWith the crackdown on striking garment workers two weeks ago the situation in Phnom Penh looked worse than the crisis in Bangkok. But the Thai deadlock is far from over and the intransigence of Suthep Thaugsuban (“No win-win situation, it is either they win or we win…”) signals a further increase of unrest.
Whatever the outcome in Cambodia may be, it is encouraging to hear Sam Rainsy give credit to the CPP leadership. “But they are also responsible people to some extent” he said in a press conference. The demands of PM Hun Sen to step down and snap elections being held was dropped. Instead the negotiations should focus on electoral reform, adjustments in the parliamentary set up and a TV license for the opposition.
All this may be Southeast Asian shadow play, but it could be a reminder to big neighbor Thailand that democracy is substantially compromise – for the benefit of the country.

Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen Ignores Opposition


Partyforumseasia: Never underestimate the determination of Prime Minister Hun Sen to defend his grip on power and ignore the opposition which may have been tempted to overestimate its leverage after its success in the 28 July elections. Especially calling support from the international community gives Hun Sen the easy counter-argument that he will never allow such interference.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy might share the bitter experience of Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia. They both have their nemesis in prime ministers clinging to power and defending a privileged access to the resources of their country.

Cambodia 1

The Voice of America Cambodia article (http://www.voacambodia.com/content/hun-sen-decries-foreign-interference-in-cambodian-politics/1757797.html) also quotes the PM:
“Hun Sen said in a six-hour address on Wednesday that he opposed “foreign interference” in Cambodia’s political affairs.
“We do not need the recognition of any president or ambassador,” Hun Sen said. “It’s not necessary to ask for the recognition of the UN secretary-general, or signature countries of the Paris Accords. I won’t allow any foreigners to dictate Cambodian politics.”
Partyforumseasia:
See also the insightful analysis by Phoak Kung in The Diplomat (http://thediplomat.com/2013/10/14/reforming-the-cambodian-peoples-party/) also available in Bomborra  (Click on the blue names to access the article)

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