At Party Congress, CPP Gives Itself Top Marks

As senior members of the ruling CPP gathered in Phnom Penh this weekend for their annual congress, the party gave itself a glowing performance review and noted almost no areas for improvement, according to a 49-page report distributed to delegates at the two-day event.

The report praises the country’s soaring economic growth and the passage of new legislation, while only briefly touching upon issues such as corruption and lack of transparency, other than to note the “life-or-death” importance of continued reform.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, and National Assembly President Heng Samrin attend the CPP’s annual congress in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Khem Sovannara)
Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, and National Assembly President Heng Samrin attend the CPP’s annual congress in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Khem Sovannara)

A leaked copy of the report was emailed to members of the media on Saturday by opposition leader Sam Rainsy. The authenticity of the document was confirmed on Sunday by CPP spokesman Sok Eysan.

Although the CPP came under intense criticism last year for whittling away freedoms of expression and association with its new NGO law and an imminent new law governing labor unions, its report cites both as examples of positive democratic reform.

“The implementation of the Law on Associations and NGOs, the preparation of the union law and the strengthening of the implementation of the Law on Documents and Procedures in Cambodia has clearly shown the true intentions of the government in guaranteeing the freedom of all people in society,” the report says.

“The political determination of the CPP has led national and international circles to fairly evaluate the steps forward in [Cambodia’s] democratic process​​​​​​​​.”

“The government of Cambodia continues to push active implementation of in-depth and wide reforms, with the consideration that reform is a life-and-death factor for the country,” it adds.

Pledges of extensive reform have been the main focus of the CPP government since its shock near-loss in the 2013 national election and the rise of the opposition CNRP, which campaigns on promises that it will raise wages and reduce corruption.

The report from the congress says that the party’s priorities for 2016 include judicial reform, increasing transparency and reducing corruption, but the document goes into almost no detail about these issues. Instead, the bulk of the document commends Cambodia’s recent economic performance, including a projected upgrade from being a “low income” to a “lower middle income” country, according to World Bank rankings.

In a section on foreign policy, the report notes the deteriorating situation in the South China Sea and appears to blame the U.S. for creating a situation that could lead to conflict.

“In the South China Sea, the interference of great powers and some countries in demanding sovereignty in South China Sea has caused the situation to become increasingly complex,” it says.

“The interference of great powers and some countries has tried to curb the growth of the People’s Republic of China to [become] the largest power in the region and in the world, which could occur in the near future of the U.S.,” the report adds.

“This point could cause armed clashes when some countries mount challenges with weapons in order to resolve the problem of the South China Sea with the People’s Republic of China.”

This weekend’s event on Koh Pich island was the first party congress since Prime Minister Hun Sen was appointed as CPP president last year following the death of his longtime factional rival, Chea Sim.

While presiding over the meeting on Saturday, Mr. Hun Sen took a selfie and posted it to his Facebook page accompanied by a caption that expressed how proud he was to lead the CPP, which he called “the party that holds the flag of independence and sovereignty, the flag of peace and national unity and the flag of development in every sector—especially the economy and society.”

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said he thought the CPP’s self-analysis was lacking.

“They cannot pretend everything is OK. Everything is not OK. People are angry with the government. If they go deeper, they will see that,” Mr. Chhay said,

“There is the issue of inequality and wealth distribution. You can talk about economic growth of 7-percent-plus every year, but this just benefits a handful of people, and is distorted through corruption,” he said.

“I doubt they will be able to look at the big issues when they have the same people in place, the same ministers who have held their office for decades, putting their relatives in important positions so they can make money.”

Yet Mr. Hun Sen, writing on his Facebook page, appeared to anticipate such comments from the opposition, writing that he was unfazed by such criticism.

“We are sure not to make empty promises like the other political parties,” Mr. Hun Sen wrote. “Instead, we do things truly, we implement truly, and the people receive the results of our tangible activities.”

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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