SRP Embraces New, Non-Confrontational Approach

The days of bullhorns and lawsuits are over for the SRP, and Cambodia’s new-look opposition will take a much quieter approach, party President Sam Rainsy said Sunday.

“The SRP was a party of act­ivists,” he explained by telephone. “Now the party has reached a more mature stage.”

He said that the party plans to use its 26 seats at the National As­sem­bly to try to push through its own legislation, and will back away from public protests and legal battles.

“Before, we mainly organized street demonstrations because we had no other options to be visible,” Mr Rainsy said. “Now we can be much more constructive and effective about bringing about change through other mechanisms.”

“We have transferred to being a constructive opposition party,” he said last week. “We will be raising national issues and we will provide the government with solutions.”

The party leader’s announcement came just days after Friday’s defamation trial of SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua in Phnom Penh Mun­icipal Court. Mr Rainsy has said that the party would not appeal the court’s decision and will promptly pay any fines, in apparent contradiction to Ms Sochua’s earlier promise to go to jail rather than pay the penalty.

A decision in that trial has been delayed until Aug 4.

Mr Rainsy said Sunday that there was no reason to continue en­gaging in acrimonious legal clashes with the ruling CPP.

“When you are facing an adversary like this, you should not allow the adversary to draw you into the battlefield of their choosing,” Mr Rainsy said. “If we waste too much time on confronting the CPP in the battlefield of the judiciary, we will not gain anything.”

This isn’t the first time that Mr Rainsy and his party have appeared to back down from a legal fight.

In March, Mr Rainsy chose to pay a $2,500 fine to the National Election Committee for reportedly insulting the CPP during last year’s election campaign, rather than face a lawsuit from the government body.

In early 2006, he was pardoned from an 18-month jail sentence on defamation charges after writing conciliatory notes to Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen and then-Funcinpec Presi­dent Prince Norodom Rana­riddh.

On that occasion, the opposition leader fled the country after his parliamentary immunity was stripped. SRP lawmaker Ho Vann has been absent from Cambodia since not long after his own immunity was stripped last month in anticipation of a defamation lawsuit.

But on Thursday, Mr Rainsy denied that his party has ever cowed in the face of court action. “We’ve kept our dignity,” he said.

Referring to the 2006 letters appeasing Mr Hun Sen and Prince Ranarriddh, he said, “I only wrote that I regretted, and I didn’t apologize to Hun Sen. I didn’t make any mistakes.”

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Sunday that the ruling party welcomes the SRP’s move away from activism and legal battles, and added that he was hopeful the opposition’s commitment would help in the country’s development.

“The Sam Rainsy Party must raise obvious issues for the government, such as anti-corruption and good governance measures,” Mr Yeap said. “If the same de­structive criticism continues, it will be an obstacle for the country’s development.”

The ruling party member could not resist a taking a swipe at Mr Rainsy’s party, however, and pointed out that many SRP members defected to the CPP just before the 2008 election.

“It might be that the opposition party has hit a dead end and they have no other choice,” he said. “He can’t gather enough people. This is his strategy to survive in the party.”

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Sunday that he has noticed changes in the opposition’s strategy since Mr Rainsy’s legal problems of 2005 to 2006.

“I found that they have de­creased their critiques on the government and also on the personality of the leader of the government,” he said. “I think that maybe during the next election campaign they will be more critical again.”

Mr Panha added that he did not expect the SRP to have much luck getting its own legislation approved by the CPP-dominated National Assembly, particularly as the party has no representation on Assembly commissions or in the government.

“They have no people in very high positions. They will find it very difficult to present their legislation,” he said.

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said last week that he understands why the SRP might not want to continue its current legal battles, but added that his own party would not soften its stance against government pressures.

“The opposition parties must strengthen their stance when the government is putting on more pressure. We shouldn’t soften,” he said.

As director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights in 2005, Mr Sokha was thrown in jail over a government defamation lawsuit. He said on Thursday that he didn’t run away from the country because he did not believe he had broken the law.

“The Human Rights Party and myself, if we make a promise, we will be responsible for that promise. I respect the principle; I would rather go to jail than succumb to pressure.”




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