Opposition Mounts Plan for a Peaceful Transition of Power

Despite growing optimism among candidates and supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the likelihood of an opposition victory on Sunday remains paper thin.

Nonetheless, senior CNRP lawmakers say they have a plan to facilitate a peaceful transition of power in the event the people deliver them a victory.

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said if his party were to win, it would change only the most senior government positions, promised not to remove or demote civil servants, immediately invest in raising civil servant wages, merge certain ministries and implement measures to ensure the security

of senior members of the former government.

“In any democratic system, changing of government doesn’t mean you change everything, it means you only change the government itself. The Cabinet has to be a new Cabinet,” he said.

“The Cabinet can be open to qualified people from various NGOs and from the ruling party if we see that they have experience and are capable,” he added.

Mr. Chhay said that under the CNRP’s plan, each ministry would have only one minister and a deputy minister, eliminating what he estimated to be about 300 parallel secretary of state and undersecretary of state positions along with some 5,000 ministerial advisers from the government payroll.

“Right now there are 5,000 advisers, and the government spends millions, we don’t need that,” he said.

Asked if the eradication of so many government jobs would cause unrest among some of the most powerful people in the country, Mr. Chhay said: “These are people who are already well off. They bought their way in, many of them are business people, so we don’t need to bother to look after them.”

For all civil servants below the level of department director, job security would be ensured and a CNRP government would immediately implement a salary in­crease to at least $250 a month and begin economic reforms that would allow for continued raises in the longer term.

“A new government would have to look to reform the administration and make sure that people who are doing their jobs get better paid, that qualified people get better jobs, not promotion through nepotism and corruption,” he said, adding that implementing these changes would likely take be­tween two and three years.

As for the senior members of the CPP government who would be replaced, Mr. Chhay said that a CNRP government would both ensure their protection and offer a space for their continued participation in public life.

“We have to make them feel secure because this is the first time that Cambodia would have seen change. When the prime minister talks about [how] he might die if he loses his position, we will have to provide this protection,” he said.

CNRP candidate Mu Sochua said that the first thing that a CNRP government would do is call together senior CPP officials to hammer out a transition plan that is acceptable to both parties.

“We have said very clearly—you can look at the campaign of [CNRP vice president] Kem Sokha—that the policy of the CNRP is that we will call a meeting with the CPP to deal with these issues, so there is a smooth transition, so that we can move forward as a nation,” she said.

Ms. Sochua said that by eliminating corruption at the top levels of government with new CNRP ministers, an example would be set for mid-level civil servants.

“Of course it will take some steps before you can clean up the middle level, it is not going to happen within the first week and first month, but I can be sure it will happen within the first 100 days,” she said.

John Ciorciari, a Southeast Asia academic at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, said a peaceful transition of power in Cambodia would likely require significant concessions that may impede many of the CNRP’s more ambitious reform plans.

“A transition would require breaking down some of the existing patronage structure, but some compromises would be needed to keep the peace,” he said, pointing to Indonesia and the Philippines as relevant examples of countries in which long-serving leaders handed over power.

“Both the [former Philippine President Ferdinand] Marcos and [former Indonesian Pres­ident] Suharto regimes presided over vast, highly corrupt patronage systems, but the Philippines and Indonesia transitioned to more democratic systems without collapsing into civil war,” he said.

“Part of the reason is that incoming elected officials left many of the old patronage structures intact—an approach that helped achieve power peacefully but left many systemic governance problems unresolved,” he added.

As for the CNRP, Mr. Ciorciari said that a complete overhaul of the existing system was unlikely and eliminating corruption in the short term would be an overly ambitious goal.

“The CNRP would probably need to signal that it would leave at least some key bureaucratic and security posts in CPP hands. It would probably also need to convince senior leaders that they would not be targeted for mistreatment and that they and their families would maintain wealth and status,” he said.

“Raising civil service salaries is a good idea and is part of the solution, but a CNRP victory would not put an end to corruption. Many officials used to taking bribes and kickbacks would continue to do so, and the CNRP would have to deal with them effectively to maintain its appeal as a party of change,” he added.

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