A seminar scheduled by the opposition CNRP later this month on its “political image” will focus on convincing the party’s lawmakers and members to stick to a united message and keep debate inside the party, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Wednesday.
CNRP lawmakers have over the past few months spoken out strongly on a series of tense issues, such as encroachments along the Vietnamese border, with party leaders on a number of occasions vetoing plans or stressing that individual statements did not represent party policies.
Mr. Rainsy said that at this month’s seminar—provisionally scheduled for September 25—- members would be instructed to bring their ideas together behind party doors, debate them and then unify behind decisions.
“Any individual, whether it is a member of parliament or a party leader, must follow three steps: Gather information, analyze it together in the light of the political situation, and—even if we do not say it openly—take into account the party’s long-term strategy,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“If there is any individual who does not have all the information, or who makes analyses on their own that are not appropriate, then there can be a distortion [of the CNRP’s policies], as people hear the different analyses.”
Mr. Rainsy said the need for discipline was a lesson learned from the CPP’s recent successes in using some CNRP lawmakers’ claims about fake border maps to curtail the party’s campaign against border encroachments.
“Look at the border issue—and the border issue will remain an issue, we are not going to forget it—-but the way this issue was diverted from border demarcation to an issue about maps. We should not fall into that trap,” he said.
The country’s electoral system, whereby people vote for parties and the parties then select and replace lawmakers at will, already greatly reduces the independence of lawmakers, said Committee for Free and Fair Elections director Koul Panha.
Yet he acknowledged that the system has resulted in the public’s expectation that lawmakers selected by a party are speaking on its behalf, rendering the need for party discipline.
“If one or two members of parliament express their ideas independent of the party, people consider it as party policy. For example, [Prime Minister] Hun Sen recently criticized the CNRP when a lawmaker expressed an opinion on the border maps,” he said.
“This is a problem. Many people do not understand that individual members of parliament can have their own opinions and are not always talking for their party. This is why there is pressure on the parties to have discipline.”
CNRP lawmaker Keo Phirum said he believed the party’s members of parliament would be able to find a balance between presenting their views as public representatives and following the party line.
“As MPs, we have our right to speak out on issues when people in our constituencies have problems, in order to solve the issues for them. But we have to have a policy that MPs respect party guidelines and our long-term strategy,” Mr. Phirum said.
“The CNRP has a few MPs, maybe more than 20, who have not been in politics long, and so it is about time we have such a gathering,” he said.
“We call ourselves a democracy, but that does not mean you can just say everything you want,” he added. “Every party in the world has to work with party discipline.”