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…

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 ).