After Compromise, CNRP Returns to Grass Roots

KHSACH KANDAL DISTRICT, Kandal province – Laying the groundwork for the opposition party’s long run to the elections due in early 2017 and 2018, CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha over the weekend again returned to his party’s base to sell the case for change through compromise with the CPP.

Although it was not the first time Mr. Sokha or CNRP President Sam Rainsy has made the case that cooperation with the ruling party is the best way to defeat it, the journey to the provinces was the opposition’s first chance to defend the details of the electoral framework finalized on Friday.

CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha takes questions from the audience after delivering a speech at a public forum in Kandal province Sunday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)
CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha takes questions from the audience after delivering a speech at a public forum in Kandal province Sunday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)

Speaking in front of about 250 supporters here in Kandal province Sunday, Mr. Sokha cautioned against becoming demoralized when the opposition is forced to capitulate to the CPP in order to push promised reforms forward.

He told the audience that the CNRP had come a long way against a government prone to violent suppression.

“Step one for change was to go and vote,” Mr. Sokha reminded the audience. “After the voting, we did not see them show the true results…so we demanded they check the results again but they did not let us look or investigate.”

“When we did not see the true results, we gathered together to hold demonstrations—to demonstrate and to protest to make demands from one step to another,” he said.

Mr. Sokha, who spent his Saturday at forums in Preah Sihanouk province, recalled that the protests had achieved few tangible results and led the CNRP’s leaders to believe that cooperating with the CPP was the only option.

“The ruling party did not change its stance at all, even though millions demonstrated. It used violence to repress protesters,” Mr. Sokha said. “They dared to kill the people.”

“As you see, they have no morality or merit,” Mr. Sokha continued. “We know their background, that they are former Khmer Rouge leaders who used to kill people and that they will continue to kill the people without hesitation.”

On Friday, Mr. Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen reached a compromise over the remaining disputed details of the July 22 deal that led the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers to end a 10-month parliamentary boycott.

Mr. Hun Sen pledged that the CNRP would also get the analog television station that the opposition said it had been promised on July 22, but which Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Thursday would not be granted.

In exchange, the CNRP backed down on its refusal to accept a ban on dual nationals on the new National Election Committee (NEC), to be composed of four members from each party and a neutral ninth candidate.

Mr. Sokha said the CNRP had not betrayed the will of its supporters by decamping from the streets in July and starting to negotiate with the CPP.

“Change can either be made through fair elections or through turmoil,” he said. “As we can see with the change made by the coup in 1970, eventually Khmers still killed Khmers.”

“The change made by the Khmer Rouge’s war in 1975 had the spilling of blood. Change was made by relying on foreigners in 1979 and the Khmer still suffered,” he said.

“So the CNRP chooses one path. Change is made through free and fair elections,” Mr. Sokha said. “If change is made through elections, there needs to be changes to the election law—there needs to be the change of the NEC.”

The next national election is presently set for February 2018. Elections for the more than 1,600 commune councils in the country are scheduled for February 2017.

Until then, Mr. Sokha said the CNRP’s lawmakers would set about making up for their recent “silence,” which he said was due to their pressing work in the National Assembly putting the July 22 political deal into law.

“Lawmakers should have a clear schedule for sitting in their lawmakers offices in the provinces, and in each province there is a lawmaker office,” Mr. Sokha said. “The provincial lawmakers have in the past been closed and not functioning, and there was a lot of grass and cattle grazing there.”

Mr. Sokha also called on opposition supporters not to be tricked by the CPP, which he said would seek to divide the opposition before the next elections arrive.

“The CNRP needs unity and firm solidarity,” Mr. Sokha said. “Our weakness is disunity. If they break us apart, we lose. They could do nothing, and even though the NEC is changed, if we have disunity, we lose.”

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