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.

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…

 

 

 

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

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.

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 ).

Breakthrough Compromise in Cambodia!


Partyforumseasia: Looking quite impossible for a whole year after the controversial election on 28 July 2013, a surprise compromise between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy ends the deadlock in the Cambodian parliament. Cambodia CompromiseThe 55 elected opposition MP’s (out of 123) will officially take up their seats, probably on Monday 28 July, thus ending their protest boycott. Ruling CambodianPeople’s Party (CPP) and Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) will work together after they have reached a  compromise to overhaul the National Election Commission. It will be made a “constitutionally mandated institution” with representatives of both parties as members. With the opposition taking up its seats in Parliament and co-operating with the ruling party in the Election Commission, Cambodia makes a big step towards a more balanced and fairer political culture.  Respect is due to PM Hun Sen, who was not really known for being a compromising political leader (!) and the perseverance of opposition leader Sam Rainsy. Their compromise is a big contribution to Cambodia’s democratic development and stability.
See more details in today’s (link:) Phnom Penh Post, 23 July 2014

In a regional perspective, the Cambodian compromise must be called exceptional. A few more Southeast Asian countries are still stuck in deadlock situations with an entrenched ruling party or coalition, defending its dominance with teeth and nails and preventing a level playing field for the opposition. Internationally, the easiest way of making it difficult or impossible for the opposition to win an election is massive gerrymandering. The CNRP’s success in 2013, winning 55 mandates despite the CPP’s gerrymandering, signaled the limits of election manipulation against bigger changes in voter preferences. There are certainly a few lessons to be learned.

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.

Pardoned Challenger Returns for Cambodia Elections on 19 July


RainsyPartyforumseasia: The Cambodian election campaign is getting a bit more interesting. Two weeks before election day on 28 July, King Norodom Sihamoni has pardoned opposition leader Sam Rainsy King Norodom Sihamoniwho will return from exile in France to Phnom Penh on the 19th. The pardon comes at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen “in a spirit of reconciliation”. Sam Rainsy is not too optimistic on his Facebook page that his return can really challenge the expected CPP victory: “In the short time that has been made available, I hope to be able to meet my fellow countrymen to discuss their concerns and to hold discussions with leaders of all political parties on the best way foward for Cambodia.” He knows quite well that PM Hun Sen would not take the risk of losing just for the spirit of reconciliation. Nevertheless, some gains for the united opposition which runs as Cambodia National Rescue Party can be expected – an interesting development after the Malaysian GE in May and the Singaporean by-election in March this year.

But there is a high probability that PM Hun Sen Hun Sen neuwill keep smiling after the election.