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.

 

Sam Rainsy: PM Hun Sen Increases Pressure


Cambodia Compromise

Honeymoon definitely over

Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia is known to be a strongman with a very sharp sense of power and how to preserve it. His move to let opposition leader Sam Rainsy return from his exile in Paris in July 2013 was signalling that he felt safe and in complete control of his party, the army and the government. His idea of an arrangement with the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) seems to have underestimated  the continuing popularity of the main opposition party. In return for the arrangement the CNRP gave up its boycott of the election results and took up its seats in parliament. But the honeymoon was not really meant to last for long because there is a groundswell against the everlasting CPP and Hun Sen rule on one hand, and maybe even more annoying for the prime minister, the ambitions of Sam Rainsy as “Prime Minister in waiting” and his deputy Kem Sokha successfully working the grassroots all over Cambodia to maximize the groundswell.

At least some alarm bells must have been heard by Mr. Hun Sen. The idea of seeing the opposition taking over seems to be more than bewildering an idea for a politician who is used to being in power for more than three decades and probably grooming his son for succession. The Cambodia Daily stated in its October 26th edition rather bluntly “Hun Sen, Pondering Defeat, Has War on Mind”. At that time, the PM was sketching a bleak scenario with possible civil war in case the opposition should win in the 2018 (!!!) election.
Since then a series of calamities is hitting the CNRP:
October 26th: Two of their lawmakers are severely beaten up upon leaving the parliament. Concurrently, there is a CPP demonstrations demanding that Kem Sokha be ousted as deputy speaker of parliament which has been achieved since then.
November 13th: Citing a seven-year-old defamation case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issues an arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy, who is abroad at that time and prefers to stay abroad. He actually has enough experience with self exile.
November 16th: Sam Rainsy is ousted from parliament. “His Excellency Sam Rainsy has lost the rights, parliamentary privileges and membership as a member of the National Assembly for the Kampong Cham constituency” (Assembly President Heng Samrin)
November 18th: Sam Rainsy calls his ouster and arrest warrant a “constitutional coup”, but an unofficial intermediary suggests that there could be a deal if he returns.
November 27th: Sam Rainsy attends a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where MEPs pass a resolution condemning the ruling CPP government’s recent persecution of the opposition.
The whole legal battle saga can be found in an interactive timeline by the Phnom Penh Post in the following LINK

Strategywise: Like Anwar Ibrahim in Malysia, Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar and other political leaders in Southeast Asia, Sam Rainsy is facing constant pressure by legal and political maneuvers from the powers that be. Many have tried to garner at least moral support from more democratic governments or the United Nations. That may help morally but is often simply ignored by their opponents in power.

No Velvet Gloves in Phnom Penh


Partyforumseasia:  With huge amounts of development aid and investments flowing into Cambodia, relatively low paid jobs and industries have been created, giving at least to the capital Phnom Penh a veneer of success and normality compared to the other big cities in the region. But underemployment and poverty are still too visible and contrast with posh villas and the big SUVs of the rich.  Belated trials against Khmer Rouge criminals in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are bringing back memories but the younger generation is not very interested. The country has gone through so unspeakably cruel times and experiences that the older generation of survivors probably prefer to forget as much as possible. But the deadly memories may still linger in the social fabric of the country.  Hun Sen
Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, is certainly not known for a soft style with political opponents. With his survival instinct he rules Cambodia since 1985 and ranks now as no. 7 on the “List of current longest ruling non-royal national leaders” world wide (Wikipedia). Two very recent news items, both dated 26 October and concerning Mr. Hun Sen are remarkable:

1. “Opposition lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea were beaten and severely injured by protesters outside the National Assembly on Monday morning during a demonstration demanding that CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha step down as the parliament’s vice president.”  According to the Cambodia Daily (Link here) the demonstration was supervised by heavy police presence, but the traffic police closer to the cars of the victims did not interfere. Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself confronted with protests in Paris, signaled from there that he respects the right to demonstrate, and an official of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party CPP denied that the demonstration was organized by them. Party spokesman Sok Eysan regretted that the demonstration got out of control but has doubts that the perpetrators can be found.

2. Under the headline “Hun Sen, Pondering Defeat, Has War on Mind”, the Cambodia Daily (Link here) reports a series of threats the Prime Minister is publishing for the case that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) should win the next election in 2018. Though CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has already announced that he would not remove the CPP supporters in the army and the public service, Hun Sen seems to feel that he has to dramatize the possibility of losing power already three years before the election. His horror scenario goes from civil war to the return of the Khmer Rouge. Probably one can trust his power and survival instinct. If he feels that early intervention is necessary to nip an opposition victory in the bud he must have sufficient evidence and background as well as secret service information. Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha will take it as an encouragement, but the attacks on the two MPs should be a warning. There are no velvet gloves in Phnom Penh.

The latest from Cambodia Daily:
Phnom Penh beating 26.10.15

Oust Kem Sokha

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.”