March 26, 2023

Tag: Cambodian National Rescue Party

Key Issues, Market

Cambodian opposition boycotts parliament to what end?

Author: Kheang Un, Northern Illinois University

This year’s Cambodian general election showed a surge of support for the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), cutting the Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) majority control over the National Assembly from 90 to 68 seats.

Sam Rainsy, President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), walks with his supporters during a protest in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 25 October 2013. The CNRP rejects the official results of the fifth national assembly elections, which declared Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party as winner. (Photo; AAP)

The CPP’s majority in this year’s election, the CNRP argues, would have disappeared in the absence of electoral fraud, principally the deletion of voters from the voter registration list. The CNRP has demanded an independent investigation into the alleged malpractice and has employed various strategies, including mass protests, a parliamentary boycott and diplomatic lobbying, to discredit the CPP’s claim to victory. It is obvious that an independent verification of the alleged fraud, let alone an attempt to overturn the results, is impossible within the current political context. The question then is why has the CNRP continued to pursue this strategy?

Firstly, because if the CNRP accepts the results of the election, or negotiates with the CPP through back channels, the CNRP’s credibility will be at risk. Its supporters, many of whom used to back the royalist FUNCINPEC party, will liken Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was seen as a self-interested politician — a state of affairs that erased FUNCINPEC and Prince Ranariddh from the Cambodian electoral map. Second, demonstrations are the best avenue for the CNRP to raise its visibility among the Cambodian public. Sam Rainsy has been well known for his bravery in standing up to the CPP, and recent protests indicated his determination to challenge the status quo. After all, Sam Rainsy rose to fame in Cambodia through organising protests that in the 1990s and early 2000s earned him the nickname the ‘CEO of demonstrations’.

The second strategy the CNRP took was boycotting the National Assembly in order to provoke a constitutional crisis, by denying the CPP the required quorum to form a new government. This strategy has not yielded any fruit so far in the absence of strong international pressure through US and EU trade sanctions, the suspension of aid, or votes to vacate the Cambodian seat at the United Nations — as was the case in 1997 following the violent ouster of Prince Norodom Ranariddh by then Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. At the moment the situation in Cambodia is not so grave that it warrants such drastic action. Though corrupt and authoritarian, the Hun Sen government has been able to provide stability and sustained economic growth. Furthermore, the Hun Sen government has secured backing from China, which is ready to fill any vacuum created by the West.

Some analysts argue that the CNRP pursued the wrong strategy by boycotting the National Assembly. But participating in the National Assembly without gaining major leadership concessions from the CPP would be erroneous for the CNRP. Sam Rainsy in 2005 collaborated with the CPP to amend the constitution from the two-thirds majority required for the formation of government to a simple majority. Through that strategy Sam Rainsy succeeded in destroying Prince Ranariddh/FUNCINPEC’s political future. From 2005 onward, the battle would be between Sam Rainsy (and later Kem Sokha) and Hun Sen. The great showdown came with this election. The electoral contest, allegations of fraud notwithstanding, almost tipped towards the CNRP, which won 2.9 million votes compared to the CPP’s 3.2 million. But the 2005 constitutional amendment also rendered the CNRP’s minority status powerless in the National Assembly. For this reason the CNRP must be tough in its pressure for a power-sharing arrangement.

One might argue that the CNRP could lose face if it fails to extract concessions from the CPP, but this seems unlikely. The public knows the limits of the CNRP’s manoeuvring and the CPP’s monopoly on power. The real concern is that the public could become alienated from politics as they lose hope in all possibility of change. But even this seems far-fetched: Cambodia’s changing demography means that youth under the age of 25 will soon constitute the majority of voters. They will continue to support opposition efforts at political transformation if social injustice, nepotism, corruption and inequality remain high. Moreover, things have also changed in the countryside, the CPP’s traditional base. The CPP’s patronage-based material inducements and surveillance techniques are no longer sufficient to win rural votes. Voters want programmatic policy changes.

In the final analysis, this election proved to be a wake-up call for the CPP leadership, who now realise the need for reform on key issues like nepotism, land grabs, civil servant salaries and corruption. If the CPP fails to initiate meaningful reforms then it will face even more vocal opposition, backed by an even more restless youth. Such grievances will be strong during the next few elections and will become explosive if economic recession hits the country. If the outcome of this election pressures the CPP government to undertake significant positive reforms then it is a great victory for all Cambodians, and the CNRP should be proud of the fact that it was at the frontline of forcing these reforms.

Kheang Un is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University.

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Key Issues, Market

The Cambodian monarchy must step back from politics

Author: Phoak Kung, University of Warwick

The death of King Norodom Sihanouk in October last year was a great loss to Cambodia. To the royal family, the King’s tremendous popularity is a double-edged sword. For many years, the monarchy has enjoyed overwhelming support and loyalty from the people without having to establish a new identity or produce any significant achievements. Now, King Sihanouk is gone, and no member of the royal family has anywhere near his stature.

The current King, Norodom Sihamoni, might not even be able to ensure the survival of the monarchy beyond his reign. There are problems he cannot control.

First, some prominent members of the royal family are actively involved in politics — at the expense of the monarchy’s reputation. They form political parties to compete for power and often use their royal connections to mobilise public support, as in the case of the Funcinpec Party. This diminishes respect for the monarchy. Politicians break promises, and the people distrust them for it. When people feel betrayed by royalist political parties, they can blame not only individual members of the royal family but the whole institution of the monarchy, including the King.

Second, some members of the Privy Council, which advises the King, want the new King to follow his father and exert control over government affairs. But they expect too much. King Sihamoni needs to establish his own identity as monarch. In any case, the King does not have the kind of power and privileges that his father enjoyed when he ruled the country in the 1950s and 1960s, and the constraints facing the monarchy are enormous. Worse still, when the King refuses to intervene, some Privy Councillors publicly complain that he lacks the courage to confront the government. It is time for the council to revise its strategy. Instead of picking fights with political parties, the King should focus on the ordinary people. The people, not political parties, will protect the monarchy.

Moreover, some provisions of the Cambodian Constitution make the future of the monarchy uncertain. There is no royal hierarchy in Cambodia; instead, political parties select the new king from a pool of candidates. The Constitution effectively allows the ruling party to choose its preferred candidate. The candidate must be from three royal bloodlines — the descendants of King Ang Duong, King Norodom and King Sisowath. This does not mean there is a large pool of potential candidates, however. And infighting between the three royal families further undermines the monarchy. The Constitution makes it almost impossible to know who will be first in line to the throne.

The decline or collapse of the monarchy is not good for anyone, including the ruling party. For over 20 years, Cambodian politics has been characterised by fierce and often violent competition between government and opposition. Political deadlock is constant. But Cambodia has muddled through, mainly because King Sihanouk — the ‘Father of National Reconciliation’ — helped mediate.

What will happen now he is gone? For example both the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) claimed victory in parliamentary elections in July 2013. In protest against the electoral result, the CNRP vowed to hold massive demonstrations nationwide, while the CPP deployed troops and heavily armoured vehicles into the capital city to prevent any possible clashes. A peaceful solution remains elusive. Both parties and the people still expect King Sihamoni to intervene. It is clear that the monarchy remains an integral part of Cambodia’s conflict resolution mechanism.

Cambodian politics has become a zero-sum game; the public, too, is politically divided. Conflict and stalemate will be the reality of Cambodian politics for years to come. It is almost impossible to assume that these problems can be sorted out smoothly and peacefully without the help of a strong, popular monarchy. Government institutions are not ready to arbitrate electoral conflicts independently.

The monarchy can help ensure stability, security and peace in Cambodia, but only if the King remains neutral. If he is seen to side with either the CPP or the CNRP, he will lose credibility and legitimacy in the public eyes. Both political parties must refrain from politicising the monarchy. It is possible to convince the people to accept a more passive and ceremonial monarchy as stipulated in the Constitution. Moreover, the King and members of the royal family must reach out to as many people as possible through both traditional media outlets and social media like Facebook and Twitter. The modern monarchy must be more engaging, adaptive and innovative if it wants to survive Cambodia’s tumultuous politics. The era of the God King is well and truly over.

Phoak Kung is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Politics and International Studies, the University of Warwick.

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