In 2017, it was a tragedy when the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was forcibly dissolved on the laughably fictitious claim that it was plotting a coup. Had it not been expunged, the CNRP stood a good chance of winning the following year’s general election. This month, it was the turn of farce (to borrow an adage) when the Candlelight Party was blocked from competing in July’s general election. Kafka would be proud of the authorities’ claims of improper paperwork.
The Candlelight Party (CLP)’s demise points to an early succession for Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s eldest son. He will run as an MP for Phnom Penh in July and could well take over as prime minister soon after the ballot. The election will now be presented as a plebiscite on his succession. All things in Cambodia now orbit this succession process. So, too, the decision over the CLP. But why? Maybe Hun Sen is dug so far down in his narrative bunker that he now genuinely believes any political rival to his ruling party is, by definition, treasonous and illegitimate – or, indeed, that he genuinely thinks a cabal of foreign diplomats is conspiring “again” for regime change in Phnom Penh, as per his more recent comments.
Or the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is scared about what could happen at July’s general election and thinks the CLP could have managed a surprise victory. But whereas a CNRP victory in 2018 was feasible, a Candlelight Party upset in July seemed near impossible, despite taking a fifth of votes at last year’s local elections. That said, few foresaw the Move Forward Party’s victory in neighboring Thailand’s election this month.