Looking to Burma, CNRP Pines for Similar Fate

As U.N. peacekeepers oversaw elections in Cambodia at a cost of some $1.6 billion two decades ago, Burma’s army junta was settling into a new era of autocracy. Yet the apparent blooming of democracy in Burma over the weekend has left many Cambodians jealously glancing west.

In a sweeping victory by Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi—to go along with a 1990 win that saw her forced under house arrest—the ballot had the trappings of the Cambodian opposition’s own dreams for 2018.

“Democracy has prevailed in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide,” CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua wrote on her Facebook page after the release of initial ballot results on Monday afternoon. “Ballots not bullets. May all living dictators take this as a lesson.”

If Ms. Sochua’s message was not clear enough, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy was more effusive in his comparison of the situation in Burma and his own plans for Cambodia, posting images of himself meeting Ms. Suu Kyi in Rangoon in 1996 and again in 2013.

“The landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) at the November 8, 2015, elections in Myanmar, is good news for democracy all over the world, especially for Cambodia,” Mr. Rainsy wrote above the images.

Perhaps most direct, Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy public affairs director and the daughter of the party’s vice president, Kem Sokha, wrote on her Facebook page that Ms. Suu Kyi’s victory was encouraging for “other pro-democracy struggles in the region.”

“Dictators should learn their threats and violence do not work in the long run. The ones that do not know when to stop pushing eventually fall down hard; the sensible ones step aside peacefully,” Ms. Monovithya wrote.

Whether the current calm after Burma’s first democratic election in 25 years can be replicated in Cambodia when the CPP and CNRP face off in the 2018 national election will largely depend on the military.

Mr. Hun Sen has warned of the resumption of civil war and threatened rebellions by the commanders of the nation’s military and police forces—which are tied to the CPP—if the CNRP comes to power.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Tea Banh declined to comment when asked if he drew any lessons from the vote in Burma. Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander in chief Pol Saroeun, however, accused a reporter of being crazy when asked if Cambodia’s military would accept an opposition victory in 2018.

“Do not ask now. Wait until that time,” General Saroeun said. “I do not know, and [you are] asking crazily like this—wait until that time to ask.”

Yet National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said the armed forces would respect any result handed down by the National Election Committee (NEC), as Burma’s army now also appears to be doing.

“The important thing is the NEC,” Brigadier General Hy said. “When it announces [the election results], everybody will accept that, and it does not matter if they are military police or not.”

On social media, pro-CPP figures were not willing to allow Cambodian opposition supporters to claim Ms. Suu Kyi’s success as their own, or to take it as an omen for things to come in Cambodia.

Pheng Vannak, the suspended deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anticybercrime bureau—a prolific CPP advocate on Facebook —said the CNRP’s leaders could learn a lesson from Ms. Suu Kyi and be more cooperative.

“Kem Sokha should correct his provocative, insulting, accusatory, smearing and racially discriminatory character, and take as a model Aung San Suu Kyi. She does politics without any inciting and smearing like Kem Sokha,” Mr. Vannak wrote on his page.

Khan Chan Sophal, another pro-CPP Facebook user who identifies himself only as a soldier but has some 266,000 followers and a penchant for provoking CNRP supporters, agreed that Ms. Suu Kyi has no equal in Cambodia.

“People praise her politics because even if she is the opposition leader, that doesn’t matter, she could still bring many benefits to her country. As for Sam Rainsy, the delinquent opposition leader, he cannot even be compared to her leg hair,” he wrote in a post.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said by telephone that he also did not believe that Mr. Rainsy or Mr. Sokha could compare to Ms. Suu Kyi, whom he was eager to praise.

“Their situation is opposite to Cambodia’s situation because the opposition party in Myanmar has enough criteria that shows it is truly democratic, and the spirit of its leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi is a spirit of love for their nation,” Mr. Eysan said.

“As for the opposition in Cambodia, all of its struggles cause problems and impacts upon the interests of the people and the nation,” he said. “We see them as 180 degrees from Aung San Suu Kyi, both in spirit and situation.”

Committee for Free and Fair Elections director Koul Panha said by phone from Rangoon—where he was an election monitor on Sunday —that a smooth transition of power in Burma was not yet assured, but that it could set a good example.

“It impacts on the region when people look at the election in Myanmar, but we have to wait and see. If there can be a smooth transfer of power, it will be a good example for Cambodia in particular,” he said.

“Cambodia has not had a peaceful transition of power before and I think Myanmar could give a good example of this. But, for now, this is only a hope.”

[email protected], [email protected]

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.