Cambodia’s Parliamentary Election 29 July 2018


Update: According to CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan, political parties had no authority to announce the number of seats they believed they had won, but according to the NEC’s unofficial calculations, the ruling party had won comfortably and no other party could win a single seat. (The Phnom Penh Post, 1.8.18)

Partyforumseasia: The first unofficial results of yesterday’s election are out, showing the expected overwhelming victory of the CPP and a voter turnout of over 80 %. Here is a preliminary table, courtesy of Mear Nup at Phnom Penh. Out of the 125 Parliamentary seats, 114 would go to the CPP, six to FUNCINPEC, and five to the League for Democracy Party.

It is futile to speculate whether the CNRP opposition and its leader Sam Rainsy would have won this election had the party not been dissolved in November 2017, officially by the Supreme Court, but de facto, of course, following the steely will and resolve of Hun Sen. The longer a politician is in power, the more difficult it is to give up. Hun Sen is the world’s longest serving Prime Minister with 33 years in office. The former Khmer Rouge officer joined the Vietnamese who ended Cambodia’s horror years with an invasion in 1979, and, in 1985, at the age of 33, was appointed Prime Minister. After the 1993 UN-sponsored election which was won by FUNCINPEC under Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Hun Sen was Second Prime Minister, but toppled the Prince in 1997 and regained the premiership. His grip on absolute power reflects the violent history of the country since the Vietnam War, including several instances where the “West” can be accused of letting down Cambodia. Maybe the most damaging one was the continuing recognition of the Khmer Rouge, in exile in Thailand, by the UN until 1993, a stance against the occupying Vietnamese who rather felt that they had liberated the neighbour from the genocidal Khmer Rouge. And the UNTAC-supported election, a huge international effort, failed to disarm the remaining Khmer Rouge and was never seen as positive by the Cambodians as by the international helpers and media.

The facts are as they are, Hun Sen and the CPP are confirmed in power by an election widely criticized as undemocratic and far from free and fair. Giving a special training and deploying thousands of military police “to prevent unexpected demonstrations and strikes” tells about the government’s precautions.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was the main opposition until its ban last year. It could neither participate nor organize a boycott and mass abstentions it advocated for, if the 82% voter turnout is realistic. Its leader Sam Rainsy lives in self-exile in France to avoid imprisonment for several dubious accusations, and his deputy, Kem Sokha, is in prison, accused of treason and plotting together with the United States to topple the Hun Sen government. Could all that have been avoided or did the two leaders overestimate their cards and underestimate the resolve of Hun Sen? The CNRP vote share of 44.5% in the 2013 election was certainly ringing the alarm bells for Hun Sen, but also boosted the self-confidence of the CNRP that defeating the CPP would be in reach. The excellent international contacts of both leaders and their image as the alternative and more democratic  leadership of Cambodia, on the other hand, may have opened a flank domestically and triggered the rather absurd treason accusations.

 

 

 

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: Resurrection of Funcinpec to stop growth of CNRP Opposition?


Partyforumseasia: Among the many long-term dominant parties in the region, Malaysia’s UMNO, Singapore’s PAP, Vietnam’s VCP, Laos’ LPRP, and Cambodia’s CPP, only the first and the last have sufficient reason to fear being voted out of power. Ranariddh 1The planned return of prince Norodom Ranariddh (71) to the helm of the more than half dead Funcinpec party opens the arena for many speculations. One possible interpretation is that the move is a strategic masterpiece of Prime Minister Hun Sen to limit further growth of Sam Rainsy’s CNRP by absorbing the royalist vote and secure his own and the CPP’s grip on power.
Foto: Prince Ranariddh announcing his return during a press conference in his villa in Phnom Penh on January 5th.

The speculation is not new. Based on Agence France Press, the South China Morning Post ( Link ) raised it on March 17th, 2014 already, when the prince announced his return to politics: “Cambodian Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced his return to politics yesterday amid speculation that he is being brought back by the strongman leader, Hun Sen, to bolster support for his government.”
Prince Ranariddh is the second son of the late and still revered king Norodom Sihanouk and half-brother of the current king. Given his image as being not totally immune against corruption, Hun Sen might well have arranged a deal with him. The prince’s denial, “My goal is not to break up any political party. My single goal is to gather voices of royalists and Sihanoukists”, does not exclude the deal, though.
The royalist camp, not least through Ranariddh’s own political activities, is split and ailing despite a sizable amount of traditional popular support for the monarchy. Being the clear winner of the first democratic election in 1993 with 45.5 %, Funcinpec lost its last two seats from 2008 in the 2013 election. Ranariddh, Prime Minister from1993 was ousted in 1997 by his deputy Hun Sen. But nevertheless he served as President of the National Assembly from 1998 to 2006 and as President of the Supreme Privy Council since 2010.After his ouster from Funcinpec in 2006 he founded the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) which won two seats in 2008 but was dissolved in April 2014 and later replaced by the Community of Royalist People’s Party.
The acronym CRPP, by the way, sounds dangerously close to CPP. Rallying the royalist voters and co-operating with the ruling CPP may indeed weaken the strong CNRP opposition which is described as “republican” by Ranariddh now, citing the “bad example” of France after the revolution of 1789…
But Prince Ranariddh is not yet president of a new Funcinpec, he has to be formally  elected in a party convention. One of his critics from his own family, Prince Sisowath Sirirath, called the return already “a sad day for Funcinpec” (The Cambodia Daily, Link ).