The possibility of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) being dissolved is rather high after remarks made by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week, who said: “I must affirm here that when one political party is dissolved, five new ones will replace it.”
The CNRP will face dissolution under the newly amended law on political parties if party leader Kem Sokha is convicted on the treason charges he faces.
Many questions have been raised and there has been a lot of speculation regarding the legitimacy of the government, the 2018 general election and political stability.
Surely the general election scheduled to take place in July next year will be affected without the participation of the main opposition party.
Hence the legitimacy of the new government established after the next general election could be highly contested. As a result, peace and stability may be challenged. What will be the CNRP’s next moves?
It seems there are not many options for the CNRP. The political situation has forced the CNRP into a corner. It may opt for a brinkmanship strategy.
There are three possible steps that the CNRP might take.
First, the CNRP will have no choice but to elect a new president to replace Mr Sokha to save the party’s political life. However, this scenario is highly unlikely given there is no consensus among the party’s steering committee members on whether to elect a new leader.
Second, the CNRP may boycott the general election and pick political fights at home and abroad through their favoured option, instigating waves of people protests to try galvanise international support to put pressure on the Phnom Penh government.
Under this high-risk and high stakes political game, Cambodia may be hit by a political crisis.
Third, the CNRP may choose to establish its overseas political movement or a government in exile to continue its political struggle against the Phnom Penh government.
This scenario can only be realised only if there is sufficient support from some core countries. Under this scenario, it will be a long-term political fight. The aim is to have an international conference on Cambodia, similar to the Paris Peace Accord in 1991.
What will be the CPP’s next moves?
Maintaining the power status quo at all cost and by all means has been the main strategy of the CPP. The true nature of Cambodian politics is the survival of the fittest.
Peace is narrowly understood as the absence of war and conflict. Therefore, eliminating the potential threats to peace and stability has been the main mission of the incumbent government.
Power transitions in Cambodia have never been smooth and peaceful. The lack of political trust has been the root cause of political conflict and violence.
The mass protests after the 2013 general election have taught the CPP-led government a critical lesson, which is to stay cautious and alert to potential regime change by people revolution.
Therefore, the government will take all measures to prevent mass demonstrations from taking place. Peace and stability are above liberal democracy and human rights.
There are two possible steps that the CPP will take. First, if the CNRP boycotts the general election, the CPP will pursue a multi-party political system by empowering other small political parties.
A coalition government would be created after the 2018 election.
Second, the CPP will speed up reforms to deliver concrete results in order to strengthen its legitimacy.
Peace, stability, performance and economic output are perceived as the main sources of regime legitimacy.
What should politicians do?
Cambodian society has been unfortunately polarised and divided by opposing political groups, making the kingdom fragile and vulnerable to political instability. Any small spark may lead to a widespread impact.
If the CNRP is dissolved, the political and social divisions will reach a dangerous tipping point. It would be an irreversible trend.
There is a no neutral force strong enough at the moment to assuage heightened political tension and strengthen political trust between the two main political forces.
The politicians need to understand and adapt to the aspirations of the people, especially the young, and transform the social dynamics into a source of sustainable peace and development.
Winning the hearts of the people is the most effective, sustainable way to get and maintain power.
Chheang Vannarith is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.