Is it time to step aside?
The recent warming of relations between acting opposition leader Kem Sokha and Prime Minister Hun Sen is a step in the right direction for not only both parties, but for the country in general.
But the outbursts on Facebook by opposition leader Sam Rainsy have thrown those slowly warming relations into doubt.
Any government in any democracy needs dialogue with its opposition. When there is no dialogue, a ruling party has no one to point out the flaws in policies or laws, which should be debated in a constructive manner.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has sat on the sidelines for too long, boycotting important meetings and staying out of the processes people elected them to be involved in.
But now there has been a change of tune and the CNRP has started doing what its supporters expect of their elected representatives – turning up at the National Assembly and to other important meetings, questioning ministers and becoming more involved in the way the country is run.
But while the recent thawing of relations has been a win-win situation for both sides of politics, and ordinary citizens, there has been one loser – Mr. Rainsy.
Mr. Rainsy’s recent outbursts about “crushing” the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the upcoming elections and getting control of the security forces will only increase tensions between the two sides at a time when the opposite approach is needed.
Mr. Rainsy, now in self-exile for the fourth time, has not done anyone any favors, especially his own party, with his rhetoric against the ruling party as the CNRP tries to mend ties with the CPP and engage in playing the role any opposition should play in a democracy.
“In 2018, the CNRP will form a new and legitimate government and what will remain from Hun Sen’s CPP will just be a bunch of rebels who will be crushed by the legitimate government commanding the national armed forces with the support of the international community on the basis of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements on Cambodia,” Mr. Rainsy wrote on his Facebook page recently.
“But raising now this issue of transfer of power in 2018 is just part of a political and psychological war, with Hun Sen bluffing – as always – when he threatens the CNRP with a civil war if he loses the forthcoming elections,” he added.
The prime minister and the ruling party have recently said they will respect and accept the results of the 2018 national elections, regardless of what they may be. To do otherwise would bring international condemnation, and with that would come sanctions or other actions that no amount of aid or money from China could overcome.
Mr. Rainsy’s comments were more like a declaration of war than anything close to reconciliation between the two parties, and at the moment there is a lot at stake with his party in the midst of negotiations to free jailed human rights workers.
Mr. Sokha, the acting leader of the opposition in Mr. Rainsy’s absence, understands how delicate the situation between the two sides is at the moment and has been taking the right approach by engaging in dialogue and going to meetings at the National Assembly along with the other elected members of his party.
Mr. Sokha has had a lot of time to think things out as he laid low for months in his party’s headquarters to avoid arrest.
In exile, Mr. Rainsy is slowly but surely losing his relevance in the context of Cambodian politics. History shows that there have also been other leaders in Cambodia who became irrelevant to local politics, royalty included.
The right place to fight, argue and rant is the National Assembly, not on the streets or on social media.
One of Mr. Rainsy’s recent outbursts on social media accuses the government of “causing destruction” to the country. “Stealing people’s land, burning down people’s houses, cutting down forests, destroying farms, harming lakes, demolishing mountains, collecting stones and minerals, dredging sand,” he said.
Here in Cambodia, Mr. Sokha and his colleagues in the opposition party have been busy questioning ministers in the National Assembly and seeking answers to the many problems Cambodia faces.
Most recently the opposition had Environment Minister Say Samal in the hot seat at the National Assembly, where he was asked about forestry crimes like illegal logging, the problems with some land concessions, wildlife preservation and mining.
While many of the minister’s answers and explanations were considered unsatisfactory to many and some of his words raised more questions than answers, at least the opposition was doing its job by bringing up some of the major issues facing Cambodia and highlighting them for all to see in the National Assembly.
By doing so publicly and in the appropriate venue, the public is free to make up its own mind on whether the government is doing the right thing by the people and the resources Cambodia has.
Ranting and raving on Facebook and other social media only gives a one-sided view of the issues and problems the country faces as it tries to move forward. Asking questions and having talks between both sides of politics is the only way to get things done.
Most recently Mr. Rainsy continued his tradition of slamming Mr. Hun Sen and the ruling party for their celebrations on January 7. He wrote on his Facebook page that the entire civil war waged in the country was a “set-up” so Vietnam could take land from Cambodia.
“If there had not been April 17, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge came into power, there would not have been January 7, 1979, and if the Vietnamese had not helped the Khmer Rouge in 1970, there would not have been April 17, 1975 either,” he wrote.
“So a big part of the whole story in the last 50 years is that it has been an active set-up by the communist [Vietnamese] to take our land and distort the truth in the eyes of the Cambodian people.”
Perhaps Mr. Rainsy should be looking at the future rather than dwelling on a past that cannot be changed and interpreted to suit one particular point of view. And perhaps his party would be better off if he let his members who are engaged with the ruling party chart their own course.
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