A workshop in March on internal and external communications held for the opposition CNRP by the US-funded National Democratic Institute allegedly involved more than just capacity building.
Leaked documents seen by Khmer Times and published by the government-aligned Fresh News appear to reveal that the NDI tried to provide a strategy for the CNRP to win the 2018 general election.
It appears also that part of the strategy was used in June’s commune elections.
During the campaign period, Kem Sokha and other CNRP leaders repeatedly said they expected to win 60 percent of the votes based on their survey.
According to documents allegedly leaked from the workshop, the advice given to the CNRP was that it can win the next election – this idea must be repeated. And if the CNRP loses, it must immediately blame the CPP.
This strategy is similar to the aftermath of the 2013 general election, when the CNRP claimed the CPP had cheated despite the opposition party gaining about 22 seats from the CPP.
These claims led to demonstrations, some of which turned violent, and calls for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down.
At the time there were repeated statements by Mr Hun Sen, warning that a “Third Hand” was behind the violent demonstrations in Phnom Penh with the aim of pushing for what’s known as a colour revolution and civil war in Cambodia.
The prime minister, however, did not mention who the third hand was and called on the armed forces to be alert.
On a similar tone, Mr. Kem Sokha had claimed in Melbourne on August 15, 2015 that “there was a powerful democratic country which is helping the CNRP to organize policy and political platform for the party in order to rule the country.”
Commenting on the leaked documents, Chheang Vannarith, chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies , said that sovereignty and non-interference had been at the core of Cambodia’s foreign policy and its interactions with international actors, including international organisations.
He added that the violation of these principles had been regarded as one of the most sensitive issues in Cambodia because in the past, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States interfered in Cambodian politics which led to three decades of civil war.
The current ruling elites view foreign intervention as a core threat to national sovereignty, independence, peace and security.
They are also concerned that history might repeat itself if Cambodia is not cautious and careful enough, Mr Vannarith said.
He said that in the context of a messy world situation and fragile national politics, states have become more sensitive to external interference and more assertive in claiming their sovereignty.
“The Cambodian government has taken tough measures to ensure that peace and stability remain under control, in a traditional sense. Peace and security sometimes are above human rights and liberal democracy,” he said.
Mr Vannarith added that it was a law of nature that a sovereign state was the highest form of politics and international relations. Politics was about power, who gets what and how. That was the nature of Cambodian politics, he said.
Legal professor Sao Deluxes said it did not matter whether the NDI had treated big or small parties fairly or otherwise by teaching strategies.
The problem, he said, was that the leaked documents indicated this was a way of providing strategy rather than training courses by an NGO.
They organised a strategy for the CNRP to win the elections, and also created, inadvertently through their strategy, a way to blame the CPP and to implement that strategy since March 2017, he said.
“In my opinion, strengthening the qualifications and capacity of politicians is better than providing critical strategy to any political party,” he said. “NGOs should provide each party with technical knowledge on how to write interesting speeches or slogans.”
Mr Deluxes said that to avoid bias to other political parties and interference in the politics of a country, the NDI should enhance qualifications and knowledge and avoid organising critical strategies for any party.
All political parties had their own policies to gain popularity, he added.
Enhancing the capacity of activists, politicians and political party’s leaders was to enable them to organise strategies by themselves rather than depending on external institutions and organisations whose interference elsewhere has seen chaos and bloodshed.
He said providing a critical slogan such as “The CPP cheats” is not training but a strategy to incite.
“If we are NGOs, and we want to enhance democracy in the country, we should not help to provide strategy, but we should train to enhance capacity,” Mr Deluxes said. “We should set accurate limitations on our training on human resources and capacity of leaders.”
When asked about legal action, Mr Deluxes said that if NDI went deeply into the strategy of a party, and had political trends, these would become a basis of evidence to suspend the NGO by following the NGO law.
The NDI’s registration application was submitted to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in 2016 after the NGO law was approved and put into force. However, the ministry is reportedly still reviewing the application.
Meanwhile, Kong Vibol, the general director of the general department of taxation, said the NDI had not registered with the tax department and as such the Foreign Affairs Ministry should not deal with its registration request.
“The taxation department understood that the ministry should not grant a licence or sign a memorandum of understanding with this NGO because it has committed a crime against the tax law,” he said.
Last year, the second son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Hun Manith, the director of the Defence Ministry’s military intelligence unit, told Khmer Times that there are many ways to create and promote a people-power revolution within a society.
Most of the countries affected did not have peace or stability afterwards, he added.
Mr Manith added that after the election in 2013, something similar happened in Cambodia to the Middle East and Eastern European countries that had revolutions.
However, he said the government was able to keep the situation under control and preserve peace and stability, which resulted in good economic growth.
The plan for regime change against the government had never gone away, he claimed. With the help and funding of foreign governments, either directly or indirectly, the plan was still in effect, he said at the time.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, formerly an adviser to CNRP president Kem Sokha, said he had participated in the NDI’s activities once in a while. They help Cambodia without discrimination against any party or group, he said.
However, Mr Mong Hay declined to comment when asked about the leaked documents allegedly preparing election strategies for the CNRP and urging the CNRP to use critical slogans.
There were no solid facts, he said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann denied NDI involvement in election strategies for the CNRP on how to win next year’s national election.
The NDI was an independent international organisation which had been operating here and did not serve any political party. It held training courses for all parties in Cambodia, he said.
He added that the CNRP attended the courses not only with the NDI, but also with the International Republic Institute and other international organisations and most of the training focused on the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights.
Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said relevant ministries would review and investigate this case because they controlled all NGOs operating in the country.
“If ministries find out that any NGOs are involved with wrongdoings and violate the laws, they will take action immediately,” he said.