By Virak Thun
Political tension has permeated Cambodia since the July 28 elections. Divisive rhetoric employed by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), along with the CPP’s military buildup in response to the CNRP demonstrations, has politically charged the atmosphere of the country. At this point it shows no sign of abating as the CPP and the CNRP continue to wage their respective campaigns.
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The question on the minds of many in Cambodia is whether the pledge of more protests and a continued parliamentary boycott by the CNRP will be enough to gain any ground against Prime Minister Hun Sen. At best the CNRP lacks the ability to apply effective pressure on the CPP, and at worst, it merely plays a weak hand in a game the CPP orchestrated. The CNRP has few resources to marshal and is heavily reliant on donations contributed by Cambodian nationals living abroad. Furthermore, the party’s top leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, have been known to exhibit ideological differences with respect to political and economic interests. It remains unclear whether these differences have been resolved, however their political speeches and attitudes fuel speculation that they have not.
Things look very different across the aisle with the CPP. They have played the political game so well that the popular statement, “never underestimate Hun Sen,” now rings truer than ever. The usual alleged voting irregularities aside, the CPP still clearly claimed the majority of the popular vote on election day. Over the course of another five-year term, the CPP will continue to monopolize the public bureaucracy and resources allowing Hun Sen to dominate the playing field. This of course includes media access and coverage, which is certainly skewed in favor of the ruling party. Even after suffering a historic twenty-two seat loss to the CNRP in the National Assembly, the CPP still rules and will have sufficient time to adapt in order to regain its dominance or at least win again in the next election.
However, a substantive level of uncertainty remains. The question of what comes next for the CNRP should be considered in the context of two factors: (1) the CPP’s monopoly control over the state’s resources and media, and (2) the CNRP’s internal weaknesses. In the process of overcoming its weaknesses and “getting things right,” the CNRP should perhaps re-consider opting to work with the CPP. In this way it can perhaps still influence the policy and decision-making of the government, because ultimately what matters most is not who wins but rather the interest of the Cambodian people. As long as both parties can serve the collective interest of the Cambodian people and the country at large, that is where the real win lies.
Virak Thun is a graduate student of Political Science at Northern Illinois University (NIU).