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Hardliners May Take Control of CNRP

T. Mohan and Ros Chanveasna / Khmer Times Share:

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) succession plan may see party hardliners taking center stage against the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP).

CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha told supporters in Takeo province last week that the CNRP is planning a congress to adopt reforms that will allow new blood to rise faster through the party ranks.

“Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha already are prepared to transfer power to successors,” he said. “The congress will change things, and it cannot stay the same. We must change together, which will change from the local level up to the top for development and the future.”

But, political analyst and academic Chheang Vannarith told Khmer Times there is a real possibility that this succession plan may lead to hardliners taking control of the party.

“The culture of dialogue between Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy has already created a lot of resentment within the opposition party,” he said. “This resentment has been growing day by day since the CNRP ended its boycott of the National Assembly and agreed on a deal to re-enter Parliament.”

“While the spirit of dialogue is positive and welcome, a segment of CNRP members have voiced resentment and view this as capitulation to the CPP,” he said. “They demand and want a hard line stand. This resentment could lead to hardliners taking over the party if the proposed plan is implemented.”

A former Asian diplomat previously based here  predicted that hardliners would sharpen their knives for attacks on the CNRP leadership, as they do not see the value of dialogue.

“This segment of members have not stopped their attacks on the government nor echoed the sentiments of the party leadership,” the former diplomat said. “To them, victory at the 2018 election must be achieved at any cost. The only way, probably, is to take on an extreme hard line stand to win back supporters and voters while trying to keep current supporters intact.”

Hun Sen To Take over CPP 

Kem Sokha’s comments about reform and succession come after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s April announcement that after the death of CPP President Chea Sim, Hun Sen would assume party presidency.

Mr. Vannarith said that for the CPP, Prime Minister Hun Sen is the main pillar for reforms.

“However, the system is not easy to reform unless there are leadership reforms at all levels – from ministry to department levels and national to local levels,” Mr. Vannarith continued. “Local government has not been reformed even though it has lost public trust over the years. Corruption remains rampant and the poor are the victims of bad governance.” 

Thus, he said, it is imperative that there be stability within the CPP and its succession plan. 

CPP-led Reforms

Sok Ey San, CPP spokesman,  Cambodia’s Government, led by the Cambodian People’s Party, is reforming across all sectors, including public finance, education, public administration and anti-corruption – all to reduce poverty in the Kingdom.  

“However, there are some obstacles to enforcement of these deep policy reforms of the government, especially at the local government level,” Mr. Ey San said. “This is because of the limited ability and knowledge of the local government. Thus, lack of communication between the upper level and lower levels of the government has been an impediment to reforms at the local government level.”

“Leadership succession within the CPP should be based on meritocracy,” he continued. “There should be democratic decision-making within the party. Mr. Hun Sen’s eldest son, General Hun Manet, has proven to have certain leadership skills and has gained significant support from the party and public, and there is the possibility for him to take a top leadership role within the party.”  

“I cannot predict in advance that the CPP will increase the support from the people, but after we have added more younger generation members with high knowledge, leadership ability and experience in political activities, including into the government, I believe the CPP will increase their votes for the next mandate,” the party spokesman predicted.

CNRP’s Future?

Mr. Vannarith predicted the CNRP will become dominated by its militant hard core. “In the case of the CNRP, I think that the future generation of leadership of CNRP may take a harder stand towards CPP,” he said.  “However, if Sam Rainsy can remain as an influential figure even after retiring from the presidency of the party, he can continue to encourage the culture of dialogue, but the question to ask is to what extent the new leadership may listen to him.”

Yem Ponhearith, the  CNRP’s spokesman, said the future of the party did not depend on its current personalities.  

“As far as the CNRP is concerned, when the opportunity is given to the younger generation to take the reins of the party, the culture of dialogue with the CPP would not change,” he predicted. “Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha will remain as influential advisors to guide and promote the younger generation based on the internal policy of the party.” 

Ou Virak, a veteran human rights advocate and president of the Future Forum Institute on Policy and Research, praised the CNRP for its new path. But he advised party leaders to hammer out the party’s program before choosing new leaders.

Mr. Virak predicted Mr. Rainsy’s life in politics will end after the 2018 general election if he loses. 

“Kem Sokha may have an opportunity to get more involved in politics, even one election more than Mr. Rainsy because of his outspoken ways,” Mr. Virak said.

Mr. Virak believes all successors should be chosen through democratic voting at the local level. Any appointment of successors without voting, he said, would cause the party to disintegrate. Such appointments weakened Funcinpec, the royalist party, he said.

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