How to Create a Loyal Opposition


Partyforumseasia: Call it drama or saga, Prime Minister Hun Sen continues to get rid of the CNRP opposition because he is not sure that he would win the next general election if it is free and fair. His survival instinct is stronger than the CNRP wanted to believe, though they should have known him better. In the newest twist of the story, Hun Sen calls on the opposition MPs to defect in time before the impending dissolution of their party by the Supreme Court on 16th November. Singapore’s Straits Times on 5 November quotes Mr. Hun Sen as follows:
I want to give you this opportunity to continue in your job… It will not only be that the party is dissolved and then the matter is finished. Maybe more than 100 people will be banned from politics for five years.
The CNRP is accused of treason in collusion with the USA in order to overthrow the government led by Hun Sen and his Cambodian Peole’s Party (CPP). One by one, the CNRP leaders have been intimidated, beaten up, forced into exile, like former leader Sam Rainsy, or imprisoned and accused of treason like Kem Sokha. Their “crimes” are above all to dream of taking over the government, and winning too many mandates in the national and recently the local elections. Like many leaders all over the world who are used to power, and Hun Sen is by now with 32 years the longest serving prime minister, he as not the least intention to retire.
The official trigger for Kem Sokha‘s indictment was a video from 2013, in which he allegedly discusses with US-counterparts how to win the next election. Not only for Americans it sounds rather legitimate and normal for an opposition party to dream of taking over after winning the election.

Ironically, to warn and threaten the opposition, Prime Minister Hun Sen has used a speech on the anniversary of the Paris Peace Accord of 1991 which established a multi-party democratic system in Cambodia. This democratic big bang was what the Western signatories believed and accordingly pampered the CPP-regime with generous development aid, regularly pledging more millions than the government was asking for. Interfering now in support of the CNRP seems to be out of the question, of course.
The opposition, especially Sam Rainsy and his party with the same name, and merger partner Human Rights Party under Kem Sokha, who formed the CNRP in 2012, have become somewhat overoptimistic with their rising popularity and election success and rhetorically more aggressive. Getting their funding to a certain degree from the Cambodian diaspora abroad, and supported by American and European pro-democracy NGOs and the Western embassies in Phnom Penh, their optimism and self-confidence may have seduced them to underestimate Hun Sen’s resolve to stay in command. He is preparing his son Hun Manet as a possible successor, and his extended family has much to lose as well. Global Witness, a London-based NGO, reports that the family has registered interests in 114 private domestic companies,   mostly as chairpersons, directors or major shareholders. When Hun Sen first declared his assets in 2011, he was quoted as saying that besides his official salary of 13,800 USD per year he hadn’t any other income…

Cambodia: Who is a Traitor decides the Dictator


Partyforumseasia:     Opposition leader Kem Sokha detained for “treason”.
Lately, we have been reporting about Cambodia relatively often. The last few headlines were not positive, neither for the opposition nor the the ruling CPP: April 30, 2016: Party Competition Cambodian Style, October 14, 2016: Cambodia’s Opposition Getting More Sticks and no Carrots, January 2, 2017: Final Blow for Cambodian Opposition?, June 28, 2017: Cambodia’s Commune Elections – Final Results Not Really Glorious for the CPP.
Don’t blame pessimism in politics, it can always turn from bad to worse:
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy had been driven into exile in 2016 and practically forced to resign as chairman of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) because a new legislation allowed the suspension of the CNRP under a “convicted” leader. Even all his pictures had to be removed under the new law. Deputy chairman Kem Sokha took over and continued to prepare the party for the general election due by next year.
But Hun Sen, in power since 1985 and one of the longest serving prime ministers worldwide, seems to be nervous about his ruling party’s victory in 2018 and determined to do whatever it takes to continue his rule. He is only 65 by now, which is no retirement age for politicians. Known much more for his iron fist than for velvet gloves, Mr. Hun Sen has initiated a series of measures to guarantee that he stays in control. The newest was the arrest of Kem Sokha, Sunday morning, 3 September, 12:30 am at his home by 100 policemen and sent to a prison 200 km away from Phnom Penh. Prime Minister Hun Sen was quoted as explaining the urgency: “The treason of colluding with foreigners to betray the nation requires {us} to make an immediate arrest”. The foreigners, also called “the third hand”, are the USA who, like it or not, do have a tendency to promote their idea of democracy by intervention and regime change, which is certainly not always popular in the recipient countries. In the case of Cambodia, the US supported the coup of general Lon Nol which ousted the late king Sihanouk in 1970. It is no secret that the US and European countries who have supported Cambodia with billions of development aid have been disappointed with the Hun Sen administration’s resistance against crucial domestic reforms.
Kem Sokha, who has already endured legal attacks over an alleged extramarital affair last year, is known for his very balanced and conciliatory personality. But as an experienced politician and human rights activist, he is also a good campaign speaker, and, of course, his aim as opposition leader is no less than winning the upcoming election. That is normal and completely legitimate.

Other measures of PM Hun Sen are complementing the arrest of Sokha:

An attack on press freedom: With a surprise tax bill of over six million USD, the 24 year old English language “Cambodia Daily” feels forced to close down immediately.

A CPP internal party purge: End of August a leaked secret paper informed about a party-internal exercise to review the attitude and reliablity of the CPP’s 5,370,313 members, no less than 68 percent of the nation’s 7.8 million registered voters. Many, especially the bloated civil service, have been expected or forced to join. All reliable members will get a new membership card after passing the personal screening by a party team.

If the CPP should have any remaining Communist elements, the party purge reminds of the infamous Lenin quotation “Trust is good, but control is better”...

 

 

Cambodia’s Commune Elections – Final Results Not Really Glorious for the CPP


Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Hun Sen’s once famous iron grip on power is increasingly showing fatigue. Ruling as Prime Minister for 32 years and approaching a normal retirement age of 65 coming August, Hun Sen is by no means prepared to give up, and certainly not inclined to see the main opposition party CNRP take over. The official results of the 4 June commune elections have just been released by the National Election Committee, and the Prime Minister’s reactions are telling.
Driving his potential personal nemesis, long-term CNRP leader and rival Sam Rainsy into exile by debatable accusations and convictions, Hun Sen has once again pulled out all authoritarian campaign stops by threatening turmoil and civil war in case the CNRP would win. There were also reports that truckloads of soldiers were sent into “shaky” constituencies to tip the scale in favour of the ruling CPP. But, and that is not self-evident, the election was overall peaceful and well organised.
The results show at the surface a dominant ruling party but the details are not promising for a continued dominance in the 2018 general election.

Despite all the intimidation, the popular vote difference between CPP and CNRP, 50.8% to 43.8% or just 7%, is not really a fantastic victory for the ruling party and PM Hun Sen. His campaign rhetoric, to be fair, has probably been influenced by the self-predicted chances of the CNRP to win and take over the communes, especially the continuing provocative statements of Sam Rainsy in exile. All that can be taken as election and campaign fever which happens often enough anywhere.
The signs, however, that Hun Sen feels “touché” are coming up now after the official results are finally out.

Even for a battle-hardened politician like Mr Hun Sen who has never been known for velvet gloves and mincing his words, his statements during the last few days sound extraordinary. On 21 June, during an emotional re-enactment of his crossing over to Vietnam and defecting from the Khmer Rouge in 1977, the Prime Minister “suddenly took a sharp turn in his mood to quell any confusion about his recent warnings of renewed (civil) war and appeared to directly threaten to kill present-day political opponents. “Your tongues will be the motive for the war,” Hun Sen said, in an apparent reference to the opposition. “If you all keep talking about insults and the threats to kill, you all must prepare your coffins already.”
(The Phnom Penh Post 22 June, LINK)

But the ageing battle horse also proves to draw correct conclusions from the progress of Cambodia’s opposition. Since all including the drastic coffin threats don’t seem to be reliably effective, Hun Sen has started to look into the shortcomings of his own CPP. In a speech on 26 June at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh, he criticised the arrogance of power of CPP office holders: “The people’s dissatisfaction stems from our behaviour,” and “Please pay attention to your wives and children.” (The Cambodia Daily, 27 June. LINK)
The Prime Minister mentioned several cases where wives or children of higher officials had been saved from judicial prosecution despite severe offences. Impunity of those in power is always causing resentment among the voters, especially in a country where status symbols like big villas and big SUVs are easily equated with the political upper-class among the CPP members.

The 2018 parliamentary election will show whether threats and self-criticism can save the ruling party for another term. The younger generations (the median age is 24!) have no memories of and little interest in the bloody Khmer Rouge past of Cambodia. But they need jobs and career perspectives and may set their hopes more on the CNRP and its liberal economic programs than on the CPP with its old-fashioned image and ageing leadership.

 

Final Blow for Cambodian Opposition?


Partyforumseasia:  In a democratic system, dealing with the opposition is not easy. They might win the next election and take over the spoils of power. If you are the ruling party or coalition and used to all the goodies, it is self-evident that you will do everything to prevent being voted out – if you don’t have to fear an independent judiciary…
Southeast Asian ruling parties are practicing remarkable tactics to stay in power and keep the opposition at more than arms length.

With the Malaysian example, PM Najib weathering the storm of the 1MDB financial scandal in which he is personally involved, domestically unscathed and nearly without blinking, Camobodia’s ruling CPP and PM Hun Sen are following suit with rather similar recipes.

Cambodia Compromise

No more handshake

Political weapon No. 1 is the law. Since charismatic opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been neutralized by consecutive prison terms, the same is now happening to Cambodia’s charismatic opposition leader Sam Rainsy. Living already in self-imposed exile in France to avoid imprisonment for an earlier conviction, he has just been sentenced to another five years in absentia.
Superfluous to add that all these convictions are more than dubious. At least they have a little bit of legitimate veneer, though not too many voters would buy it. But the Cambodian government  is using physical violence as well, opposition MP’s and Senators being brutally beaten up in full daylight in front of Parliament as reported by Partyforumseasia earlier. Malaysia, at least, is already a step ahead and refrains from un-elegant use of force. But neutralizing the opposition by imprisonment is still a scandal!

For details of the sentence see the following two articles in
The Cambodia Daily:
CNRP President Sam Rainsy Sentenced to a Further Five Years in Prison (LINK) and
Jail Time Piles Up for Sam Rainsy (LINK)

 

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.”

Reprint free of charge, copy requested!

 

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.

 

Cambodia: Losing Face With Facebook?


Partyforumseasia: Politicians cannot be everywhere in person but they can be omnipresent in the media and especially the social media. Facebook has been discovered as a popularity gauge and booster by practically all leaders  world-wide and of course in Southeast Asia. The higher echelons have their support teams who constantly feed the perceived or imagined demands of voters and respond to online questions coming in.
Hun Sen Facebook

Cambodia has made sufficient progress in internet penetration to make Facebook accounts for the leaders attractive. But boasting about increasing numbers of visits and likes can be a trap as well, as shown in the recent “Facebook war” between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader in exile Sam Rainsy.
On 6 March the Prime Minister had thanked his “national compatriots and youths in the country and overseas” for pushing his likes over the three million mark. Only a few days later, the Phnom Penh Post (Link) revealed that, over the last 30 days, only 20% of the likes had originated from Cambodia (see chart above):
“The biggest influx, 255,692, came from India, where a total of 332,475 Facebook accounts “like” Hun Sen. Further, over the past 30 days, 98,256 accounts from the Philippines liked the premier, as did 54,972 from Myanmar, 46,368 from Indonesia, 26,527 from Brazil, 12,980 from Mexico, 4,783 from Turkey and 3,952 from the United Arab Emirates.”
Honi soit qui mal y pense  or in English: Shame on whomsoever would think badly of it
is the motto of the British Order of the Garter. But beware of suspecting Mr. Hun Sen or his staff of buying Facebook likes in countries as far as India, Brazil and Mexico.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is already in self-imposed exile because of an old defamation suit against him, is burning his fingers once more. On his own Facebook site he exposed instructions from Som Soeun, a Delegate Minister Attached to the Prime Ministers Office, that all rank and file party members shall support the Prime Minister’s Facebook site whenever they can. The prompt retaliation from Som Soeun was another defamation suit against Sam Rainsy.

Facebook likes can easily be bought from “click farms” in poorer countries. Be it overzealous underlings buying the Facebook likes for their leader or anything higher up, the story is as embarrassing as hilarious, if not outright ridiculous.

 

The Law As Political Weapon In Southeast Asia


Cambodia Compromise

From handshake to kicking out…

Partyforumseasia: World wide, there is a certain connectivity between law and justice, but the law, in most cases a result of politics anyway, is rather often a sharp political instrument as well. Some argue that the laws are just petrified political power to preserve the established structures of elite domination.
The newest twist of a long rivalry between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy is unfolding these days with the announcement of Hun Sen that he will introduce legislation to ban dual citizenship. Sam Rainsy’s French passport, which is helpful for his newest self-exile in Paris to avoid imprisonment at home (for a rather obviously politically motivated conviction) would neutralize him as challenger to Hun Sen’s hold on power. Under the headline “PM’s pledge: ‘No pardon’ for Rainsy” the Phnom Penh Post (Link here) on 29 December is quite blunt about the move:

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to create a new law barring political party leaders from holding dual nationalities, an apparent move to further incapacitate beleaguered CNRP president Sam Rainsy.In his latest tirade against his long-time political rival, the premier also vowed to never again request a royal pardon for Rainsy, who in November entered his third stint of self-imposed exile to avoid prison on charges widely perceived as politically motivated.”

Other countries in the region might have inspired the Cambodian Prime Minister:

In Malaysia the only dangerous opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in prison once again after a dubious conviction for sodomy. Without him the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance has fallen apart, and Prime Minister Najib Razak survives a string of scandals.

In Myanmar election winner Aung San Suu Kyi cannot run for president because her sons have British passports.

In the Philippines a citizenship drama is still unfolding. The Election Commission tries to disqualify the presidential bid of Senator Grace Poe because she is a foundling without sufficient proof of being a real born Phillipina, plus her former US citizenship. The Supreme Court has challenged the decision, so she may eventually run in the upcoming presidential election in 2016.

In Thailand former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is facing a law suit for negligence with the rice purchasing program of her government. The move is widely seen as a last and decisive attempt to exclude her brother Thaksin from any chance of coming back to the political scene.

Who says that politics is fair? At the moment all these legal battles show the ugly face of Southeast Asian hardball politics.
See also the chapter “Hardball: Power and Party Politics in Southeast Asia” in:

Book at Barnes & Noble incl E-Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also available at Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Coming Clean? New Election Law in Cambodia Controversial


Partyforumseasia: Election outcomes depend to a rather high degree on the electoral law applied. But the law, if it is fair, must be applied and respected, competing parties must campaign with a minimum of fairness, and there must be a mechanism to detect and punish fraud. Sufficiently free and fair elections are by no means international or Southeast Asian standard or common practice, and Cambodia’s last parliamentary election in July 2013 turned out to be one of the most controversial elections after the country’s return to parliamentary rule. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) felt cheated of a majority it thought it had won and boycotted the new parliament for the ten following months. The boycott ended in July 2014 with a compromise, the main agreement being the implementation of a new electoral law and a bipartisan and neutral National Election Commission (NEC). After seven months of drafting the new law has been presented to the public by Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin and CNRP official Kuoy Bunroeun on 9 March. The unusual Wahlbetrugsituation now is that ruling party and opposition have come to a compromise but have to defend it now against a number of NGOs, among them the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel), Transparency International Cambodia, the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy believes that the law can be passed by end this month together with a new law for the National Election Committee (NEC). The NGOs want more consultations concerning their doubts about a number of details. They criticize among others articles 156 and 162 which could lead to the disqualification of a party from contesting if one of their officials violates articles of the law. According to articles 68 and 72 violations of the restricted time and number of rallies during the 21-day official campaign could also lead to disqualification. The same is stated in article 152 for insulting or instigating discrimination on “an ethnic person, or a group of a nation or race, or any religion”. Disqualification and hefty fines of 10 to 30 million Riel (about $2,470 to $7,410) seem to aim at the anti-Vietnamese rhetoric used by the opposition against the CPP before the compromise.

In regional and international comparison the Cambodian debate is very unusual. A certainly difficult compromise between CPP and CNRP to level the playing field for the next elections comes under pressure from NGOs, the politically more aware and outspoken part of the Cambodian society. But they do have a reason to worry because their role in the campaigns and election process is also regulated and reduced. The new law includes hefty $2,500 to $5,000 fines for those who insult parties (sic!).
NGO staff can be fined for direct or indirect speech or texts that insult a party or a candidate, or support them in a partisan way. Publishing opinion polls in support of parties or candidates is banned as well.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy promises to keep the last version of the law open to fine-tuning after debate. But shoulder to shoulder with the CPP he has to defend the compromise.
The National Election Commission will have four members each from the two parties (who have to give up their party membership, though) and an even more neutral ninth member who can decide in case of stalemates. Both parties would like to see the president of respected NGO Licadho, Ms Pung Chhiv Kek, as the ninth member. But she has her own preconditions and may refuse the position and embarrass the politicians.

By mere coincidence, “Coca-Cola and David Puttnam, the producer of the 1984 film “The Killing Fields,” have been recruited by the government to help shift the world’s image of Cambodia away from land mines and corruption and toward one of a booming economy and easy business, the commerce minister said Thursday.”
(The Cambodia Daily, 6 March 2015))

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.

Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen Ignores Opposition


Partyforumseasia: Never underestimate the determination of Prime Minister Hun Sen to defend his grip on power and ignore the opposition which may have been tempted to overestimate its leverage after its success in the 28 July elections. Especially calling support from the international community gives Hun Sen the easy counter-argument that he will never allow such interference.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy might share the bitter experience of Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia. They both have their nemesis in prime ministers clinging to power and defending a privileged access to the resources of their country.

Cambodia 1

The Voice of America Cambodia article (http://www.voacambodia.com/content/hun-sen-decries-foreign-interference-in-cambodian-politics/1757797.html) also quotes the PM:
“Hun Sen said in a six-hour address on Wednesday that he opposed “foreign interference” in Cambodia’s political affairs.
“We do not need the recognition of any president or ambassador,” Hun Sen said. “It’s not necessary to ask for the recognition of the UN secretary-general, or signature countries of the Paris Accords. I won’t allow any foreigners to dictate Cambodian politics.”
Partyforumseasia:
See also the insightful analysis by Phoak Kung in The Diplomat (http://thediplomat.com/2013/10/14/reforming-the-cambodian-peoples-party/) also available in Bomborra  (Click on the blue names to access the article)

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.

Cambodia: Sam Rainsy Back Home to Challenge Hun Sen?


RainsyPartyforumseasia: Yesterday, 7 July 2013, Sam Rainsy has announced his return to Cambodia.  See his Facebook page.

The country will be going to the polls on 28 July and – as usual – Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is expected to win big. The long term ruling party is well prepared with a total penetration of the administration and its control of media and economy. Could opposition leader Sam Rainsy be Hun Sen’s nemesis this time? Rainsy lives in exile since 2009 to avoid imprisonment up to eleven years after a dubious conviction, but the internet allows him constant contact with his party. And this time the opposition has managed to unite in the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Sam Rainsy is the only Cambodian politician with the format and popularity to challenge PM Hun Sen, whose official title is as impressive as his long term grip on power: “The Noble, Supreme, Great, and All Powerful Commander-in-Chief, Prime Minister Hun Sen”. But many Cambodians resent the cronyism and corruption of the CPP regime and the evident nepotism in the Prime Minister’s family.

Hun Sen