Some Say Long-Term Role of SRP is Unclear

Cheam Channy’s imprisonment is only the latest of a string of re­cent obstacles for the embattled Sam Rainsy Party, but there is no con­­sensus on its potential long-term effects for the opposition or the balance of power in Cam­­bodia.

“It depends on the reaction of the pub­lic to the verdict and the abil­ity of the Sam Rain­sy Par­ty to capitalize on the pub­lic reaction,” said Lao Mong Hay, le­gal advisor to the Center for So­­cial Devel­op­ment. “Some­­times a bad thing can be turned into a good thing.”

Monh Saphan, Funcinpec parliamentarian and chairman of the Na­tional Assembly’s Defense, In­terior and Inspection Com­mis­sion, painted a morbid picture of the op­po­sition’s future without Sam Rainsy.

“It’s like when the hen is away, leaving the chicks behind with no one to take care of them,” he said.

In addition to the jailing of Cheam Channy and the opposition’s loss of its leader and another parliamentarian to self-im­posed exile abroad to avoid prosecution, parliamentarian Khem Veasna has al­so been exiled from the party.

“The reason that Sam Rainsy gain­­­ed in the last election is that they grabbed Funcinpec votes, but the people have grown fed up with the opposition,” Monh Saph­an said. “For example, people see that the Sam Rainsy Party is not a democratic party, because they fire their own lawmakers, like Khem Veasna.”

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay main­­­tain­ed that his party is only made strong­er by the legal at­tacks.

“In a country like Cambodia, the oppression and intimidation of the opposition only makes the op­­­position more popular,” he said. “Since we are boycotting the [Assembly] meetings, we have more time to dedicate to the grassroots….We have to work close­ly with the rural population to provide them more information on our party and what is hap­pen­ing in our country.”

CPP parliamentarian Cheam Yeap defended the legal actions against SRP officials.

“Some people call the stripping of Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary im­munity ‘taking him hostage,’ but that judgment is not fair,” he said. “It’s like when you catch the head of a snake, you have to hold its head tight or it will bite you.”

Chea Vannath, director of the Cen­ter for Social Development, com­­­pared the CPP’s use of the le­gal system to violence.

“When they use violence it looks very immature…. It looks legal to use the court rather than violence, but it’s worse than using violence.”

Lao Mong Hay said the CPP is effectively using a “divide and rule” strategy by pitting one party against another and using both in­timidation and the courts to thwart opposition. However, he questioned whe­­­ther the CPP would be able to trans­ition to another generation of lead­ers.

“The current leadership is old,” he said. “The next generation will have to earn credibility and popular support.”

Long-term predictions aside, the CPP is firmly in power now. Fun­cinpec, however, is in an un­clear position.

“It has been suffering for a long time from a lack of principled lead­­ership and they have been scram­bling for power,” Lao Mong Hay said. “I think that its lead­er should have stepped down after two conservative defeats.”

Chea Vannath noted that Fun­cinpec still holds most of the top public service positions in areas such as health, education and rur­al development, so they have a great potential to help the poor.

While gaining grassroots support is critical to the opposition’s growth, Chea Vannath said she worried that the party is neglecting Phnom Penh politics.

“They have less and less opportunity to gain experience working in the government,” Chea Van­nath said. “If they have an unpredictable landslide [election] victory, it will be hard for them to lead the country.”

Son Chhay said that it is now a two-party contest.

“I think Funcinpec is out of the race now,” he said. “Our main com­­petitor is the CPP.”

The jailing of “Cheam Channy was not a special case,” he added. “We will continue to do what we are doing.”


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