The government’s on-again off-again ban on rallies at Freedom Park did not stop CNRP leader Sam Rainsy from planning Sunday’s rally of some 3,000 supporters to advise the party on its position regarding the continuing political impasse with the ruling CPP.
The government-instituted National Election Commission determined that the national election held in July 2013 was won by Prime Minister Hun Sen—a victory the CNRP claims is invalid because of rampant election irregularities and fraud.
Despite objections, the Hun Sen-led CPP government was ratified by the National Assembly. However, only CPP representatives have formally taken their seats in the Assembly. The CNRP representatives have boycotted the legislature. The latest request for a demonstration permit by the CNRP was submitted to City Hall on Wednesday for the Sunday’s rally.
The Interior Ministry has publicly accused CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha of seeking to “topple” the government; the Defense Minister has warned against such actions. Anticipating problems, Mr. Rainsy has made clear that the rally is “not a demonstration to topple [the government], so don’t use this pretext to ban our rally.”
Recently, Mr. Rainsy called on the people to “please be ready to hold a historic [next] demonstration with two million people,” should the CPP continue to rebuff the opposition’s proposals for a resolution to the political impasse. While this may be an overreach—I could not imagine two million Cambodians gathering— Rainsy certainly has seen tens of thousands rally in support of his campaign for a more equitable sharing of power, in spite of threats, arrests, beatings and shootings. Such is the dissatisfaction with the status quo and mainstream disapproval of a prime minister installed since 1985 by Vietnamese occupation forces.
I commend enlightened CNRP leaders who have called off rallies when bloodshed appeared inevitable. I am astounded that Mr. Hun Sen and CPP strategists
remain arrogant and intransigent in the search for a peaceful and long-lasting resolution to the conflict. Their stonewalling is evidence of the CPP’s determination to maintain a government in which executive, legislative, and judicial powers are maintained in the hands of one or a few, contrary to what Mr. Hun Sen himself agreed when he signed the 1991 Paris Peace Accords to bring democratic pluralism to Cambodia.
I’m not a member of nor an advocate for any Khmer political party. But I believe in democratic principles and in the spirit of republicanism. I don’t think everyone who serves in Cambodia’s current bureaucracy is evil, nor do I think everyone in the opposition is a saint. I hear and read many Cambodians fear that Cambodia will be usurped by its neighbors. I think the fastest way for this land, this culture, and these people to risk such an outcome is by ignoring the teachings of Lord Gautama Buddha, who espoused among other ideas the important ideology of pluralism.
Meanwhile, after four lowerlevel meetings of the CPP-CNRP election reform committee, the political deadlock remains with each party blaming the other. Why should we expect any other result when the goals of the parties are diametrically opposed— one party wants to stay in power and the other wants to chip away at the other’s authority—and neither is inclined to compromise for the good of the nation?
The abrupt ending of the fourth senior officials meeting on Monday should surprise no one. Participants are not empowered to reach decisions about significant political obstacles. Consequently, the CNRP now calls for a meeting between Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Hun Sen. Such a meeting was held last September, but failed to solve anything.
Mr. Rainsy’s statesman-like posture in his interview with The Nation’s Suthichai Yoon, and during his interview with Phil Kafcaloudes of Radio Australia, displayed his readiness to compromise with Mr. Hun Sen and the CPP for the country’s best interests. This constructive approach should be applauded and encouraged. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Hun Sen has shown nothing similar in return.
The problem remains what it was. At least half of the country, if not more, wants change. Mr. Hun Sen wants no change to the NEC that declared him victorious in the national election. He will not resign. And he will not allow a new election.
The CNRP needs to review its strategy and adopt more effective nonviolent methods against the ruling party’s accumulation of power. Effective planning, strong discipline, and a solution based on pluralism, not individualism, are key.
Gaffar Peang-Meth taught political science for 13 years at the University of Guam. He now lives in the mainland U.S.