An amendment to be debated at the National Assembly today could clear the way for the CPP to form a government without a coalition partner, a move observers said will test not only Prime Minister Hun Sen’s will to reform, but also the strength of Cambodian democracy.
Though CPP officials say they will seek to maintain coalition governments, some observers anticipate that the CPP is set to gain even greater power through the amendment.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said that without reforms, the amendment—which would reduce the amount of lawmakers needed to form a government from two thirds to 50 percent plus one—could prove problematic.
“The CPP cannot only [introduce the amendment] by saying every democratic country in the world uses this system. They have to understand that all the countries that apply this system have an independent court, an independent army, an independent legislature,” Son Chhay said.
“They cannot have [this formula] while CPP continues to control the army, to control the court and to control all the business in the country. The country has to reform,” he said.
But some anticipate that the amendment could force the CPP to reform on its own, as a party alone at the helm could not blame its coalition partner for governmental malpractice.
“If only one party is in power, it is easier for us to see what the party is doing. Now they can say the other party is corrupt, that there is one rotten fish in the basket. That is what happens now, the CPP says Funcinpec is corrupt,” said Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho.
The move will be a “good test for the political maturity of Cambodian society,” Son Chhay added, noting that CPP, like Funcinpec, has appointed unqualified individuals and has corrupt officials.
To undertake serious reform, Son Chhay said, Hun Sen would have to clean house within his own party.
Top CPP officials said they are eager to pursue reform, hand-in-hand with the Sam Rainsy Party.
“With the opposition on the side of the partnership, there will be change in the way the government officials work. So everybody needs to shape up and clean up, or the opposition will grill them before the National Assembly,” Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said.
Members of all three parties and civil society praised Tuesday’s vote to restore the parliamentary immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and two opposition lawmakers.
The move “is an important step toward resuming the democratic development of Cambodia,” US State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said in a statement Tuesday.
Funcinpec lawmaker Ly Thuch called the vote, which was not debated in Parliament, a gesture by the coalition leaders.
“It is an act of goodwill from our political leaders, from Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh,” he said.
But the move was also a sign of Hun Sen’s continued power to determine the fates of politicians, said Suth Dina, president of the ultra-nationalist Khmer Front Party.
“It is not democracy,” Suth Dina said, “it is just a political game from the government.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith defended the vote, and said Hun Sen is seeking to pursue a true culture of compromise.
“Just because the National Assembly votes according to the party does not mean there is not a separation of power,” Khieu Kanharith said.
And CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Hun Sen is ushering in a new era of accountability and reconciliation. “He intends to keep everyone accountable, and not let people stray from the law and principles,” Cheam Yeap said.
But for Suth Dina, it is clear where the power currently lies.
“Cambodia does not walk on the law,” he said, “it walks on the feet of Hun Sen.”