Constituents Shaken by Loss of Opposition Role

The president of the most politically active workers union in Cambodia shook his head in despair Thursday as he reflected on the formation of a government with no opposition party.

Chea Vichea, leader of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, has supported the Sam Rainsy Party since its president founded the union in 1996.

But Chea Vichea said Thurs­day that he could not stand by the opposition party if it abandoned the people and the ideals it was founded upon.

“I’m very sad to hear that Mr Hun Sen is selected for the new government. For me, nothing has changed,” he said. “If Sam Rainsy makes the coalition but keeps the original principles, then we will support the Sam Rainsy Party forever. But if they change, we will change too,” Chea Vichea warned.

King Norodom Sihanouk on Wednesday brokered negotiations at the Royal Palace, where leaders of the CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party formed a government similar to the old.

In the tripartite agreement, the CPP maintains the right to nominate Hun Sen as prime minister. Also, Prince Norodom Ranariddh will resume his role as National Assembly president.

The agreement reserves a place for Sam Rainsy as one of four deputy prime ministers. However, the normally assertive opposition leader said Thursday that he had not decided whether he would join a tripartite coalition.

President Rong Chhun of the Cambodian Independent Teach­­ers Association said that his group—a longtime Sam Rainsy Party sympathizer—would de­mand Sam Rainsy’s resignation from his upcoming government post if he failed to fulfill promises made to his supporters.

“I support Sam Rainsy joining the coalition government, because it is the way we can break the deadlock,” he said. “But if he doesn’t respect the principle of any point that the Democratic Alliance offers, Excellence Sam Rainsy should resign from the position.”

Rong Chhun, like Chea Vichea, said it was unlikely that Sam Rainsy could remain a strong political watchdog as a member of a Hun Sen-led government.

“In the experience we’ve had, the Funcinpec party got a high position in the government but could not do anything to develop the country,” he said. “This is what we are most worried about in the new government. I think maybe there’s still no change.”

King Sihanouk said Wednesday that an opposition party would no longer exist within a three-party government, but opposing ideas may be asserted on an individual basis.

Dominic Cardy, National Democratic Institute program manager, said this change could be harmful to the parliamentary system, which demands a stringent system of checks and balances.

“That could be the biggest risk—no opposition,” he said.

But, he said, integrating an opposition party into a tripartite government may be an effective means to infiltrate an old government with new ideas.

“It may not have a negative affect if some social groups now have perfected the art of drawing out what is wrong with the government and pointing out the failures of the government. Now they actually have an opportunity to do something about it,” Cardy said.

Chea Vichea suggested that if the Sam Rainsy Party fails to be an opposition to the ruling party, a new group like the Khmer Front Party could assume the role, collecting opposition supporters in the process.

Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay, one lawmaker writing internal regulations for the new National Assembly, acknowledged the new challenges his party faces.

“In a parliamentary system, we’re supposed to have an organized role of opposition. Because we’re not going to have an opposition, it’s going to be even harder” to hold the government accountable, he said Thursday.

But Son Chhay said the Sam Rainsy Party would still answer to the Free Trade Union and the public.

“We started the trade union. These workers are the children of the people from remote areas in the country,” he said. “They go back and promote our party all over the place in a very short time. We cannot live without this support from this group.”

 

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