October 22, 2017

What Went Wrong With Cambodia’s Opposition Party

How has the CNRP fallen so far, so fast?
The Diplomat, Ben Paviour, October 17, 2017

The party’s two key leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, thwarted early attempts at a union with insults and sideways glances before merging their two parties in 2012. Just over a year later, the new opposition shocked the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) by nearly winning a national election marred by allegations of fraud. Tens of thousands of supporters took to the streets calling for the removal of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who by then had already spent almost three decades in power. The movement quieted after five garment workers were shot dead by police during a January 2014 protest, but the CNRP’s continued rise had the aura of inevitability — a point driven home by inroads the party made on CPP turf in this June’s local elections.
Just three months later, the CNRP is leaderless and on the brink of dissolution. Sam Rainsy has been forced out as president and lives in exile, Kem Sokha has been in jail for five weeks on charges of treason, and over half the party’s lawmakers have fled the country. On Thursday, Hun Sen said the Supreme Court would dissolve the CNRP “soon,” the Phnom Penh Post reported. Mu Sochua, a CNRP deputy president, said on Wednesday that the party is “preparing for the worst.”
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Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the CPP had no desire to dissolve parties but accused the CNRP of forcing the government’s hand by disrespecting the law, the ruling party, the king, and democratic pluralism. “They try everything to destabilize an elected government,” he said on Friday.

Most observers see other motives behind the moves, which come ten months ahead of a national election in which the CNRP is (or was) the only viable challenger to the ruling party. Hun Sen has always been clear that the only credible votes are the ones he wins. “I can continue as prime minister for 10 more years. It is not difficult for me,” he said in a speech last month. Given the former Khmer Rouge commander’s sweeping control over state institutions and security forces, few analysts gave the CNRP much shot of taking power through elections.

It’s a view shared even by Sam Rainsy, who wrote on Thursday that Hun Sen would inevitably crackdown on the opposition “because he knows he would lose to the CNRP the general elections scheduled for July 2018.”

Still, some observers argue that by abiding by the capricious rules of a system stacked against it, the opposition played right into the government’s hands.

“Obviously it’s not all their fault,” said Lee Morgenbesser, an assistant professor at Australia’s Griffith University who studies authoritarian regimes. “Hun Sen has done all he can to eradicate them. [But] I think they made several mistakes after the 2013 election that compounded their problems.”

Chief among the CNRP’s missteps, Morgenbesser and others say, was the July 2014 compromise that ended the opposition’s months-long boycott of the National Assembly in exchange for a variety of promises from the government, including a reformed National Election Committee. The deal, which was opposed by Kem Sokha but championed by Sam Rainsy, also ushered in a so-called “culture of dialogue” that Morgenbesser says legitimized the CPP’s hold on power and put Sam Rainsy “in a straightjacket.”

Sam Rainsy’s acquiescence played right into Hun Sen’s hands, according to Astrid Noren-Nilsson, a political scientist who authored Cambodia’s Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination, and Democracy.

“What the CNRP had going for them in 2013 was an emerging sense of fearlessness, which created a momentum when emboldened supporters took to the streets,” she wrote in an email. “After the violent government crackdown of January 2014, the ‘culture of dialogue’ put the lid on popular anger and prevented it from hitting the streets. The lack of a threat of violent protest is the critical difference which allows the CPP to do now what they couldn’t do in 2014.”

Sochua acknowledged that the decision to re-enter the National Assembly was unpopular among some supporters at the time. Still, “it was the right move,” she said from Berlin, where she is petitioning European leaders to place sanctions on the government. “Otherwise there might have been bloodshed.”

The specter of the five garment workers killed by military police during protests in January 2014 loomed over the party. When the government threatened Kem Sokha with arrest last year, and when the CPP passed legislation this year that allowing parties to be dissolved, CNRP supporters stayed home. Opposition lawmakers instead staged symbolic boycotts that CPP spokesmen laughed off as laziness.

“The CNRP leadership had twin constraints: it is a party that respects the ‘rule of law’ until the bitter end and is determined to avoid any bloodshed,” Noren-Nilsson said. “Never giving up on mass protests, regardless of what violence might follow — and the human cost might have been staggering — could perhaps have allowed the CNRP to stay in the game.”

There are other tools the CNRP might have put to use. U.S. political scholars Valerie Bunce and Sharon Wolchik analyzed democratic movements in Ukraine, Serbia, and elsewhere that successfully toppled quasi-autocratic regimes in their a 2010 paper “Defeating Dictators: Electoral Change and Stability in Competitive Authoritarian Regimes.”

The academics found that successful opposition parties coordinated with civil society and Western governments to mount a variety of approaches to weaken the government ahead of elections, including leaked public opinion polls and voter registration drives. But they acknowledged that the parties had to convince the electorate to vote for them and “defend their choices in the streets — a very tall order.”

The CPP’s de facto press arm, Fresh News, has claimed that the CNRP followed that strategy to a letter. It points to photos of workshops hosted by foreign organizations, including the U.S.-based pro-democracy NGO National Democratic Institute, which was forced closed in August, as proof of a broad conspiracy to unseat Hun Sen. But to Morgenbesser, the CNRP failed to follow the example set by successful foreign opposition groups, including the color revolutionaries in the Balkans and post-Soviet states.

“If the CNRP really had its head on properly, it could have helped launch a color revolution,” he said. “But it didn’t, and hasn’t tried.”

The CNRP was also split along factional fault lines around its two leaders, with the party’s sole royal member, Prince Sisowath Thomico, threatening to The Cambodia Daily last year to leave a “divided” party that was “working as individuals.”

Cambodian social scientist and political analyst Meas Nee said the divisions didn’t matter in the end.

“I think no matter what way the CNRP tried to escape… they couldn’t,” he said. “The government can create a new law at any time to fulfill their purpose.”

The current crackdown marked the end of Cambodia’s third attempt at democracy after brief flirtations with the system during the French colonial era and under King Norodom Sihanouk, Nee said. With the optimism of 1993 UN-coordinated elections a distant memory, Nee, a friend of slain political analyst Kem Ley, feared the CNRP might not be the only casualty of the change in weather.

“Let me survive through the current situation,” he said on Friday.

Thousands of miles away in Paris, Sam Rainsy suggested the CNRP had reasons outside of elections to challenge Hun Sen.

“We wanted to test his madness,” Sam Rainsy said. “This is bringing him closer and closer to his end.”


Narin Vong said...

What went wrong? I was the insider and I can say this. Sokha was the leader of the Human Rights Party (HRP) before merging to be the vice president of CNRP.

Sokha had defrauded HRP by secretly taking lots of money from the account for his personal use. When the auditor questioned him on the missing of money, he later dissolved the party.

When Sokha was the vice president of CNRP, he had conspired with Hun Sen to eliminate Rainsy so he can be the president of the party instead.

When Rainsy was out, Sokha pushed himself up to the level of Hun Sen so he can win the legitimate election. But Sokha's trick was discovered and he was jailed.

There was no loyalty. Both Rainsy and Sokha always distrusted each other. The result of thef and corruption brought them down like a ton of bricks.

Kim Ea said...

Please Khmer as a whole pardon me for this appalling opinion article . Khmer warriors of Angkorian period was all exterminated long time ago after the Empire collapsed . Khmer of to day root out from nowhere, cowardice race run for hiding again and again in any decadence they were face . After the new race T'ais piracy ransack Angkor in the end of 13 century, with supported by strong ( mongolia ) forces and caused the felt down of Angkor period . Why i said thing like this ? Because time and time we observed the episode of Khmer decadence after the fall of glorious Angkor ,Khmer never united as a warriors again ,and never have a victorious fight with any races . The history show us that ,after Angkor fall this whole Khmer Empire felt to and start to retracted or lives in deep jungle . The royal leadership or King just shattered unable to created their power and divided as a small deputies . Did any one of Khmer can tell me since then Khmer never gain any one inch of land from our adversary , the whole Empire Khmer land of warrior from Angkor period was shrinking every day until some thing we have see it to day . Khmer know the most, how to defeat thei own Khmer race ,but never ever dared to stand reunited and defeat enemy . Time and time again , enemy of Khmer employed the same trick and strategy to defeat this stupid unrelevent Khmer nation ,by used pretty Woman and power offering buy a treason Khmer, Which love power and money . For Khmer to committed treason again their own race was easily like went to market and buy a fish. Every one born in this nation, can tell me how many of our leaders dedicated and sacrificed their lives for the cause of the nation and their people ? Their goal was first enriched their families and them self and their clan . As recently in your life span, you can help me to analyzed to most recent political event in the country .From Sihanouk rule ,to Lon Nol apocalypse event , Sihanouk and Pol Pot gruesome adventure killing ,and Now Hun Sen amateurish of Yuan occupation ,what they all doing to Khmer future ? Sihanouk have Yuan wife and served as yuan planned so call indo-china federation , Lon Nol have war thorn since the beginning of his reign by Vietnam and Norodom Sihanouk ,corruption to the bone , Pol Pot and Sihanouk created a miserable havoc of slaughter bloodshed of their own Khmer race and Millions Khmer lives under Yuan and Chen supervision . Hun Sen submission to Vietnam authority after the purgrd of pol pot regime and committed to Yuan plan, also volunteer as a spearhead forces to clear way for Yuan invasion of his own country, he viciously made a strategy to keep Yuan power in full control of this nation for 30 years plus under his name plate as Khmer government . You are Khmer ought to have dignity to speak louder for this treason acts ? what our leaders did was despicable in way to destroy their own country ? Khmer land shrink piece by piece ,koh Khmer was gone to the hand of enemy .This is legacy of Khmer traitor in Phnom Penh from one generation to another . When Khmer will waking up from nightmarish or this cowardice attitude ? please be courageous Khmer citizen and tell the truth to their constituent about what was happened ? This was my opinion evoking for the truth of our leaderships . Treason was committed from one regime to anther but ever see Khmer can face the truth , because the reason of cowardice trump under the tin veil of corruption .

KhmerBTB said...

The question is not what went wrong with CNRP, it's what happened to CPP that make them think whatever they do is right and whatever CNRP do is wrong .

Chun Sokha said...

Everyone include The Diplomat can be wrong if the government created the new law to prosecute what people have done years ago and everyone will be found guilty if the people who created the law can tell the court what to do .

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well... I can say for sure there is nothing wrong with Cambodian Constitution and the Cambodian constitution should be the guiding principles and the moral compass for all Cambodian leaders and Cambodian people to follow! The Cambodian constitution is the core value that applies to Cambodian leaders and Cambodian people that don't change with time.

The problem of Cambodia started with the Cambodian political establishment and Hun Cent the dictator himself! No one can deny that Cambodia is ruled by a dictator who was installed in power by the Vietcong government since 1978! The dictator has ruled over Cambodia for so long that there is a sense of entitlement! So the dictator felt that he entitled to everything in Cambodia including giving himself the title of a King(Samdech)...the command in chief...! The entitlement extend far beyond into Cambodian constitution and the dictator can make any changes to Cambodian constitution for his political pleasure! How do you deal with a thug who is so uncivilized who has control over the armed force and disobey the Cambodian constitution and willing to declare war on Cambodian people and willing to kill the Cambodian people in the mass? The dictator has said that he is willing to sacrifice 200 Cambodian political leaders if any Cambodian people stand in his way!

Cambodia has been through colonial...
Cambodia has been through foreign military occupation...
Cambodia has been through socialism under King Sihanouk...
Cambodia has been through communism...
Cambodia is going through capitalism under the dictatorship?

Capitalism and dictatorship are incompatible! Cuba is a good example!

henry said...

Something isn’t right with the yuon kid above, Narin Vong.
Let’s assume that without any proof Sokha and Rainsy stole some money, but that’s just a drop in a bucketful of water compared to the money stolen from the nation by Hun Sen, and the whole knows the impact of his steal and corruption and how the blood money makes him so rich.
Why this yuon kid is so blind?
He ‘seems’ to be able to find a flea in an elephant’s ass but he cannot see the mountain right in front of him.

Justice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justice said...

Another way of saying also related to "if you can not fight them, join them'. This is what went wrong with the CPP situation. Hun Sen can not fight with either Chinese or Vietnamese, so he joined them, without knowing that it is also a road to death. Unlike Chinese and Vietnamese, they are working for their national interests whereas Hun Sen, he is working for his own personal and foreigners' interests e.g. By allowing foreigners to ransack it (Cambodia) as they please, by making trillion of dollars out of its national resources, like mining, collecting tones of Iron Aor, gold, logging, sand drenching etc, meanwhile Hun Sen gaining both political and financial support within such a corrupted system, in order to continue to hold onto that evil power of his. At the meantime people are suffering from such an incapable leader and closed minded leader like Hun Sen. His leadership style will lead to another form both self and national destruction.


Hun Sen needs to reactivate all possible resources by learning from other top successful leaders abroad or even Chinese's and Vietnamese's main points of success.

Policy which includes;
1)utilise collective ideas from top qualified professionals with educated backgrounds and listen wisely. Focusing on the issue like what job needs to be done rather than on the person. Because people in general are in the same boat, the need to survive, a sense of security etc.

2) no outsiders interference, unless it provides benefit to its country and nation, e.g look at Chinese and Vietnam they are stealing from Cambodia in everyway they could, so they can build their city and expand it, to make it bigger and better for their people.
3) consumer affairs through protectionalism, no ransacking is allowed, like they did to Cambodia. Because it belongs to the nation not just a bunch of thugs.
4) focusing on what job needs to be done e.g putting people into groups e.g boarder protection, like who is alllowed to come in and out, or all city councillors have to be responsible to oversee and would have the ability to improve and expand in its development just like in Western World, all river and water channel must be clean, everything must be nice, neat, tidy and clean, everything has to be in order, etc.

Justice said...

National Resources/budget

Collecting from Tourism/Angkor Watt and other sites, by creating all kinds of produces, like water in bottles for sale, exporting them to Middle East etc.
Cambodia has a never ending resources that can enreach itself. But only if it has an open minded leader. Hun Sen however had to learn from his mistakes on how to run the country, to focusing on problems not the persons, the need to reshuffle to include all educated nationalists. Because it is the only way for improvement, and also to overcome through all kinds of obstacles and challenges. How? The need to say sorry to those he wrong them 2) to re-unite them, just like being a good father teaching his children not to fight but to love and to move forward known as 'win/win' but in a bigger scale, not just for family but for the whole country and nation. iBecause in the end, the truth will always be the truth. Nothing better than the truth. As for outsiders, they want nothing but to see you all falling apart. That's is why both Chinese and Vietnamese had to do what they did.

Loving your own kind is the only way for long term survival. Revenge, meaning digging 2 graves, forgiving meaning peace. Because In the end, no one can escape from the truth, the reward of doing the right thing is everything .E.g how ' a blind person picky backing a disabled person' for survival is for survival.. So, always be good and do good, when you have the opportunity or position to do so. In the end, no power is stronger than just by doing the right thing. The truth is, non of is bad but because hun Sen is under pressure by both Chinese's and Vietnameses' like do what I say or else. Hun Sen is trapped. Hun Sen needs to wake up and try to get out of it. How? Be changed, ' Re-unite'. Listen more than talk. Look around you with a 360 degree world view. Only then Cambodia could be revived.