As it began a three-day party congress in Phnom Penh on Friday, the ruling CPP blamed internal dysfunction and corruption for shock losses in the July 2013 national election, which was followed by a turbulent year marked by a political deadlock, mass opposition demonstrations and the government’s brutal suppression of dissent.
In a report distributed to CPP officials who attended the opening of the congress at its Phnom Penh headquarters, the ruling party lays out a remarkably honest assessment of why it suffered a major blow to its popular support in the election.
“Although our party was victorious, the drop in votes was the most noticeable characteristic,” says the report, which was marked “classified” and obtained from a party member who attended the closed-door morning session of the congress.
“There are a number of key reasons why we have lost votes,” the 26-page report says, listing the first reason as the failure of the government to properly implement what the CPP says were “very good policies for every sector.”
“Secondly, misconduct such as corruption, nepotism, the abuse of power, big gaps between upper and lower-level officials, between government officials and the people, between rich and poor, the lack of confidence in the judicial system, inequality, the effectiveness of the implementation of laws which remains so limited, the issue of public services, land and forest issues…made people lose trust in our leadership,” the report says.
“Although these lacking points were caused by a number of officials, the influence was very wide on our party’s popularity; as the common Khmer proverb says ‘one fermented fish causes a bad smell for all the fish in a basket,’” it continues.
The report says that damage to the CPP’s popular support was also caused by border and immigration issues, which it says have been seized on by the CNRP “to attract support from those who have extreme opinions, especially among youth who lack correct understanding about history.”
The success of the CNRP at attracting support at the local and national level is listed as the fifth reason for the CPP’s recent struggles.
Opening the afternoon session of the congress—held on the capital’s Koh Pich island—Prime Minister Hun Sen assured more than 1,300 party members in attendance that CPP President Chea Sim, who suffered a stroke in 2000 and has been in increasingly poor health, would remain in his position until he died.
“As long as he is alive, he will remain the president of our party. This is the political principal of leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party,” Mr. Hun Sen said in his brief opening remarks.
Earlier this week, Mr. Sim’s chief bodyguard said the CPP president was undergoing a medical checkup in Vietnam and was unlikely to make it back to Cambodia in time for the party’s congress.
In a speech following Mr. Hun Sen’s remarks, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, who is also the CPP’s “honorary president,” blasted the opposition’s efforts to disrupt the government following the 2013 election.
Despite official results showing that the CPP won 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55, the opposition claimed that it would have won the election if not for manipulation by the ruling party, and launched a series of mass protests that culminated in its occupation in December 2013 of Freedom Park, which became a home base for daily demonstrations numbering in the tens of thousands.
“After the national election in July 2013, Cambodia’s situation was interrupted by the opposition and their supporters who did not recognize the results of the election,” Mr. Samrin told party members packed into Koh Pich City Hall.
“They incited demonstrations, riots, interruption [and] turmoil using all kinds of tricks with the purpose of toppling the government and the Cambodian People’s Party and to push Cambodia’s situation to move away from democracy and abuse the Constitution and laws, opposing the decision of the majority of people who voted,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Samrin said that the election and its aftermath was cause for soul-searching within the ruling party.
“These matters require us to thoroughly study the cause that resulted in such a situation, meanwhile evaluating carefully strong points, weak points and lessons from new experiences for the party, pushing for timely and effective reform,” Mr. Samrin said.
Since last year’s July 22 political deal between Mr. Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy, which saw the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers end their 10-month boycott of parliament, the opposition has touted a “culture of dialogue” between the two parties; a contrast to its efforts to delegitimize the CPP government following the 2013 election.
Contacted by telephone Friday, Mr. Rainsy said that the CNRP was still broadening its support based on the quality of its ideas and proposals put forward while in opposition.
“We will continue to compete with the CPP; compete for the support of the population. And I think we, meaning the CNRP, are on a winning track because we compete with ideas, we compete with proposals, we don’t compete with money, with intimidation, with disinformation,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy wished the CPP the best in its efforts to reform.
“I wish the CPP good luck in reforming their policies and in reforming themselves, but I doubt whether they will be able to reform themselves in the way the people want—to see a responsible party, a party leading the country to be have,” he said.
“Because I think the corruption in the CPP in endemic, is systemic, so any serious reform to curb corruption would undermine the very foundation of the CPP.”
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)