Cambodia: Who is who’s Nemesis?


No way anymore!

Partyforumseasia: Authoritarian rule is getting more difficult, unless the rulers have sufficient control of the social media. But long before the age of the omnipresent hand phone and internet penetration, it was difficult to suppress rumors and political jokes. That was always a valve for the subjects to signal like mindedness and disagreement with the prescribed views of the government.

Prime Minister Hun Sen won the election last year after eliminating the strongest opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), through dissolution by the Supreme Court. Its chairman, Kem Sokha, was imprisoned, and Sam Rainsy and other leaders were pushed into exile. After all this, Mr. Hun Sen may have thought that he could relax. But the exiled and domestically low lying opposition is alive, maybe newly energized by the announcement of Sam Rainsy that he will come back to Cambodia on the 9th of November which is also constitution day. Whether this is a strategic manoeuvre or not, Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP leadership are apparently alarmed enough to react. And whether it is only a rumor or fake news injected by Sam Rainsy, that he has massive support in the armed forces and a budget to compensate the officers and soldiers who join him in a revolt against Hun Sen, this “plot” is already making waves and triggers detentions of activists from the illegal CNRP. More than twenty CNRP activists have so far been detained under charges of “plotting and incitement to provoke serious chaos to national and social security”. On October 7, the Prime Minister stated that any armed rebellion would be crushed immediately, and that for the detention of Sam Rainsy no warrant would be needed.
Mr. Hun Sen may be better informed than an outside observer, but the statement above sounds rather unusual and may betray a higher level of nervousness. So far, Hun Sen has certainly been Sam Rainsy’s nemesis, and a reversal of roles has always looked more than improbable. Sam Rainsy has often played indirectly with the support of his international connections in Europe and the USA. With economic support from China, Hun Sen could always shrug off all the external calls for more democracy. Therefore, the big question is whether there is a realistic chance for Sam Rainsy and the CNRP to come back and topple the CPP-government with sufficient popular support.

One possible cause for the top brass in the army to be unhappy may be the “request” of the Prime Minister in August, to rescind the “Oknha” titles of altogether 75 army officers. The honorific title, bestowed by the king, is given to individuals for “humanitarian contributions” of USD 500,000 and more. The regime has for long helped selected supporters to enrich themselves, what is easily done with business concessions and related privileges. But they had to be prepared that the Prime Minister, on one of his visits to the countryside, promised the local community a new school or new hospital and immediately turned around to the Oknha among the crowd to take over the funding. The collected “donations” were also suspected to be a main funding source for the ruling party.

As a result of the Prime Minister’s ultimatum, to drop the title or leave the army, seventy-five (75) officers have given up the title, while another 24 have left the armed forces. The 75 quitters were ranking between generals and lieutenant colonels, and the exercise was officially explained as a reform to avoid conflicts of interest. The director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said it in a rather charming way: “The changes make our armed forces more trustworthy because when officials have the Oknha title next to their military rank, the public begins to believe that they are leveraging their positions in the armed forces for financial gain.” (Phnom Penh Post, 25 September)

Cambodia: A Surprise in the Pipeline???


Partyforumseasia does not like fortune-telling but the political timeline for the last few weeks looks a bit like indicating a surprise solution:

Mid July
Royal Pardon for Sam Rainsy at the request of PM Hun Senin a spirit of reconciliation

19th July
Triumphant return of Sam Rainsy after four years in exile to avoid imprisonment after a dubious sentence he calls politically motivated

28th July
Election results with heavy losses for the ruling CPP and significant gains for the opposition under Sam Rainsy: 68 seats CPP – 55 seats CNRP

29th July
Press conference of Sam Rainsy: “We are asking for this (investigation into alleged massive irregularities) not to bargain for positions in the government
(Source: Straits times Indochina Bureau Chief Nirmal Gosh, who continues: “He (Sam Rainsy) said it was “premature” to talk about power sharing in the new government.”)

31st July
PM Hun Sen: “The Cambodian People’s Party has an open heart to talk to the CNRP” Background: The CPP has not enough seats to convene parliament and needs the CNRP’s cooperation…

Soon???
– A grand coalition between CPP and CNRP in the national interest of the country?
Sam Rainsy finance minister? or better Foreign Minister?
Partyforumseasia: Probably not a bad solution for Cambodia!

Hun Sam

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.