Culture of Dialogue: Down, But Not Out

T. Mohan and Ros Chanveasna / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

PHNOM PENH(Khmer Times) –  As long as Prime Minister  Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy control their political parties, the culture of dialogue adopted by them in April will endure, analysts predict.

“There is frustration and agitation among some CNRP leaders and supporters concerning this culture of dialogue,” Chheang Vannarith, newly appointed Chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS), a new think tank here. The political détente was declared by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“However, they need to show internal unity and move along with Mr. Rainsy,” he said. Referring to the party’s deputy leader who has left out of the dialogue process, Mr. Vannarith said: “Whether there is support for the culture of dialogue or not, Mr. Kem Sokha needs to tango with the evolving culture of dialogue. “

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Mr. Vannarith said he does not detect serious conflict or disagreement within the CNRP, given the fact that they know that splitting up is easy and that such a move would lead to electoral disaster.

The different opinions and goals of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha appear to reflect differing approaches by the opposition leaders in engaging with the CPP, rather than manipulation with hidden agenda.

“In my opinion, under the current political environment and climate, the CNRP will remain the most influential opposition party and the main contender to the ruling CPP,” Mr. Vannarith said. “Smaller parties like FUNCINPEC and the couple of newly formed ones such as the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) and Khmer Solidarity Party (KSP) will be marginalized. If the small parties win some seats in the next election, they are likely going to join the winning party and establishing a coalition government.”

Sok Ey San, spokesman for the ruling CPP, said that the political status quo is unchanged.

“The CPP still is optimistic that it can smoothly run the culture of dialogue and the political deal with the CNRP,” he said.

From the left, Am Sam Ath, an official Licadho, said times have changed.

“After the political crisis was broken one year ago, we saw opposition lawmakers and other activists continuously released from jail,” he said. But the jailing of 14 opposition activists over the last two weeks, “will impact the culture of dialogue.”

An Asian diplomat based in Cambodia in the early 90s said: ”With the CPP seemingly having emerged from its shock, but anticipated thump it received, in the 2013 general election, it is inevitable that new parties with a ‘new leadership and an updated program’ may step up and try to bury the CPP, while taking pot shots at their more likely opponents, the CNRP.”

“However, what is the outlook for the political system that these new parties such as the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) and Khmer Solidarity Party (KSP) in the coming 2017 Commune Elections and the 2018 General Election?” he asked. “What is their politics? What is their source of funding? Are they being set up to get votes? Or to be part of a grander scheme to tear into the CPP or the CNRP?”

“One should not forget that in Cambodia, political patronage plays a key role and appeals to grass roots supporters,” he continued. “It is a smart move politically but tactically, may not be be workable as they will be overshadowed by the CPP and the CNRP. Look at what happened to the FUNCINPEC which is struggling up to today,” said the former diplomat who asked not to be identified.

He added that the CPP has watched its grassroots organizational strength ebb away, partly because of the little Napoleons, but also because of falling victim to stresses generated by a rapidly changing society. 

“The CPP’s policies of ‘reform and opening’ have meanwhile had unintended consequences that have further weakened the prospects for its continued political monopoly,” the foreign analyst said. “Due to an expanding private sector, the party no longer controls where people live and work. Due to the spread of internet access, an alternative but disruptive social media, it no longer controls what information people have or how it is disseminated. And due to a combination of larger disposable incomes and political liberalization, it no longer controls what people do with their spare time.” 

“To manage these consequences, the CPP must adopt a new strategy of control before the CNRP or the other pretenders to the political throne and prize undertake such a move,” he said. “It must effectively reorient the party relative to Cambodian society, and in a way that raises a question of long-term survival common to many a liberalizing authoritarian regime dominated by a single party.”

“It remains to be seen how much the CPP or even the CNRP and or the FUNCINPEC will  adapt to  a new economic and social environment which if played right, can strengthen or if played wrong, can actually weaken the party’s hold on power,” the retired diplomat concluded.

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