Tuesday’s opening session of the National Assembly appeared to be an indicator of just how much the Sam Rainsy Party’s role in Cambodian politics has changed in the weeks since opposition leader Sam Rainsy returned to the country.
But as many celebrated the apparent end to open hostilities between Prime Minister Hun Sen and the opposition leader, some questioned whether Sam Rainsy has abandoned his long-held role as a critical government opponent.
“During the meetings in the past, we never talked to the prime minister, but now the atmosphere is very good,” opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann said after Tuesday’s Assembly.
“We can explain to each other our intentions and discuss about national issues, and we can smile—not like before,” he said.
Though the new relationship may be glowing, recent events do not bode well for a healthy opposition, Cambodian Center for Human Rights spokesman Ou Virak said.
“Since Sam Rainsy came back, they are not a true opposition, because they have not spoken out against the government,” Ou Virak said.
“You can have dialogue with the government, but the criticism needs to be there.”
Yim Sovann said the party has changed its tactics, but has not given up on its key issues: dealing with land issues and pushing for the passage of the long-awaited anti-corruption law, judicial reform and internal party reform.
“We still play the role of the opposition party,” said Yim Sovann, adding that such a role now means giving “constructive ideas to the government.”
“We do not change our political stance, but we changed a little in our behavior,” he said.
Sam Rainsy has lost his moral authority since returning from a year’s absence with letters of regret for defaming Hun Sen and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, said Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Saphan.
The opposition leader and the words he utters cannot be trusted, Monh Saphan said.
“Sam Rainsy’s approach cost him his credibility…. His people find out he is not a responsible leader, and all his words are fake,” he added.
Forging a new and close relationship with his previously fierce political enemy, Hun Sen, is merely part and parcel of the country’s new era of national reconciliation, Sam Rainsy maintains.
But some are not convinced. It is too early to judge the opposition’s new position and whether they may not follow the same ruinous path as Funcinpec, said Center for Social Development President Chea Vannath.
“Give Sam Rainsy a chance to prove it, and not to do like Funcinpec did to just care about their namesake and money,” Chea Vannath said. “If you want to fight corruption, after one mandate people will see clearly. And if you are corrupt and you fail, people will see that, too.”