Despite Sam Rainsy Party members’ claims that they alone decided to end their six-month National Assembly boycott, several lawmakers and analysts say the CPP’s dominance and international pressure left the opposition with little choice.
Sam Rainsy lawmaker Son Chhay said his party’s leadership decided to return because they thought the country’s plight and government corruption should be prevented from deteriorating.
“Even if the boycott did not reap such positive results, it showed our deeply held principle that we could not accept the injustices put upon us in the past,” he said Monday.
However, Son Chhay acknowledged Wednesday that the opposition had received “encouragement” from the European Union, the US and Japan to rejoin the National Assembly for the sake of the country.
“The international community also felt they lost their partner in helping keep their money on track,” he said. “The opposition keeps a check-and-balance in the government.”
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the opposition’s return would better fulfill their responsibility to their constituents.
“I heard many Sam Rainsy Party members, including my relatives in Prey Veng, became disgruntled with their leader Sam Rainsy for dragging the boycott out for so long and failing to fulfill their duties,” he said.
Cheam Yeap said the opposition had overreacted to the stripping of their leader’s parliamentary immunity and that of two lawmakers.
“That was normal,” he said. “My immunity could also be lifted for the court to pursue a case.”
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that Cheam Channy’s imprisonment scared not only opposition lawmakers, but also watchdog NGOs.
He added that the opposition has also had their hands tied in other ways: They used to demonstrate, but that has been curtailed; they increased their numbers in parliament, but couldn’t block any decisions; they held a boycott, but to no avail.
Koul Panha said that the government has been focusing more on the grassroots level because public disenchantment is high. He added that the opposition has failed to use their limited powers effectively by bringing motions in parliament and taking the government to task by asking questions.
A foreign diplomat said that the opposition’s success or failure would hinge on Sam Rainsy himself, because Cambodian politics are very personality based.
However, if Sam Rainsy himself cannot lead his party, the diplomat doubted the opposition could successfully rebrand itself with a different leader. “There’s a lack of credible figures out there who can champion the cause for the opposition.”
The diplomat added that because the opposition has been prevented from fulfilling its role of checking the government, the only way for them to effect change would be to win a parliamentary majority, either alone or in alliance with other parties.
The diplomat also said the CPP’s stranglehold on financial resources might drive the opposition abroad for campaign financing, which weakens the party’s credibility at home.
Even Son Chhay has admitted that disorganization, nepotism and corruption have marred the opposition’s public image. But he painted his party as still better than their political rivals.
“These unpleasant things are not worse than the other parties,” he said. “If we correct these little situations before it gets bad, that will help us move ahead and keep a good public image.”