Comment: Sam Rainsy Needs to Get Heavy on the Detail. And Fast.

Posted by: | Posted on: October 5, 2013

I think George pointed out critical problem to be learned by CNRP in lifting up itself high. While the article is somehow incorporated by onsite view, opinion and assumption, the key issue such as strategic modeling and concrete policy of the CNRP is not articulated.

As a fan of democratic movement, I am sentimental on recent development of Cambodia political landscape, I have seen clear dichotomous arguments on current political deadlock in Cambodia.

I have observed that according to the struggle for civil rights and liberty, there are the same characteristic coinciding with what Ghandi said first they reject you, then they come to you, and they humiliate on you, and you win at the end. The crusade war of Sam Rainsy in striving for nonviolence culture and social justice for Cambodian people has not begun today. In 1997, he was almost murdered by the grenade attack during a demonstration to acquire justice by demanding the judiciary reform. The demonstration was not only in vain but threatening to taking his life away. We cannot imagine how tough his political life countered and encountered during these decades? How many political parties he has been expelled, he created, renamed and re-united? How many passes he must run across the border to avoid incarceration and to live a self-exiled politician? How many years of jail term he was convicted? How many sacrifice he encountered to be powerless and no-salary MP? The counting is endless and his final conviction of border scheme initially demoted him unarguably.

If I could apply my course on Conflict Resolution, the ability to identify the characteristic of both contenders is, I have seen the hard and tough leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen is a must to having a soft and most sacrificed leadership like Sam Rainsy. Too many times, I see the bargaining price of Sam Rainsy has placed himself at a less opportune scenario. Different from other past politician(s), as I know, Sam Rainsy has never surrendered to power holding that questioned his own conscience: the struggle for nonviolence and justice.

Luckily, Cambodia at the present is eye-witnessing by the change of gunshot into ballot shot, from political verbal blasting on dominant media to round table meeting sarcasm. While the political campaign and the mass demonstrations have clearly demonstrated the implication of nonviolence, the deepening political reform agenda for justice and equity has delved into complex motion. It is worrisome in carrying out concrete implementation as Cambodia is not having checks and balance yet. With this prospect, the inquiry to hold assembly presidency is more important than just obtaining a TV station or the historical struggle for the reform of NEC author mentioned. While the CPP has tightly grabbed power and money in hand, this party is likely well positioned to grabbing genuine reform, the no no scenario of CNRP not to join is a self-sacrificed position. As I am worrying about the future exhausting of the MPs and its active members, the denial approach is a potential strategic one. It is not in vain because it is exactly responding to the voice of the voters and the agenda of civil rights and liberty like what Ghandi said.

So the “Rallying around a single concession – such as a television station or a thorough shake-up of the NEC – will shift the emphasis from an unwinnable war to an attainable goal, and afford the CNRP the opportunity to enter government without suffering the tail-between-legs humiliation of accepting their seats having won no gains from Hun Sen to speak of” is absolutely not a complete means for REFORM, unless CNRP obtained Assembly Presidency or a more sacrifice to increase bottom line support.


By George Steptoe
October 4, 2013

It’s been a tumultuous few weeks for Cambodia and a fruitless spell of
attrition for the exasperated Sam Rainsy and his opposition Cambodian
National Rescue Party (CNRP). For a party whose electoral slogan was
“Do” (or “change”), a marginalised position partly of their own making
means they have little to point to by way of progress.

Vigorous and ceaseless CNRP complaints of endemic electoral cheating
on the part of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) were contemptuously
ignored when the National Election Committee threw its weight behind
official results 8th September that put the CNRP’s tally at 55 of 123
seats- eight short of the narrow majority that Mr Rainsy believes his
party is due.

Expediently late, the NEC has since admitted that over a quarter of a
million duplicate names were found on the electoral register (Mr.
Rainsy maintains that 10 times that number were unfairly
disenfranchised) but the probability of an independent probe involving
an international third party now looks painfully slim.

King Norodom Sihamoni’s efforts to get the duelling factions to play
nice by orchestrating a meeting between Hun Sen (the incumbent Prime
Minister) and Mr. Rainsy 14th September ended after less than half an
hour. Not even the most cursory of pleasantries were exchanged between
the two men for whom personal animosity runs deep. Subsequent
negotiations have amounted to nought.

The three-day protest that began in earnest the very next day remained
non-violent in Freedom Park but clashes between protestors and riot
police 5km to the south left one dead and at least six seriously
injured.Reports surfaced of journalists having been assaulted by
masked thugs. If Mr. Rainsy anticipated this to be the crackdown that
might galvanise an intervention he had no such luck- the episode
passed with barely a flicker of opprobrium from the international

The King initially refused to be drawn on whether he would give his
royal stamp of approval to the new government. But the brief ‘will he,
won’t he?’ saga evaporated with an air of leaden inevitability when
the nominal leader presided over the 68 CPP lawmakers taking their
seats in a half empty National Assembly on 27th September. In so
doing, Hun Sen and his cohort comprehensively brushed aside the CNRP’s
boycott of the house and their demands for an electoral investigation
without so much as batting an eyelid.

So where does all this leave the CNRP? I wrote here in late August
that Mr. Rainsy had backed himself into a tactical corner by adopting
a zero sum approach of victory or die that has predictably yielded no
blood from the immovable stone that is Hun Sen. Now Mr. Rainsy is
climbing the walls in a scramble for options.

Besides the “People’s Congress” to be held this coming Sunday and more
mass demonstrations pledged for the 23rd October, other potential
strategies floated to date have included attempts to beckon the E.U
and the U.S into action, an international campaign to make a CPP-led
Cambodia a pariah state and a national labour strike. But whilst Mr.
Rainsy has a predilection for lofty designs, scant consideration seems
to have been paid to what the logistical mechanisms of any of these
measures might look like in the cold light of day.

Luke Hunt suggested back in July that Mr. Rainsy was mixing business
with pleasure on his trip to the United States for his daughter’s
wedding, doubling up on the price of his plane ticket to
simultaneously curry American favour. But having gained a son-in-law
Mr. Rainsy returned without the unequivocal backing of the US he
sought after. Whilst the EU and US are yet to recognise the Cambodian
government as legitimate, Mr. Rainsy has not made clear what he
imagines the shape of an ‘intervention’ from either Europe or the
states would take.

If it’s sanctions he’s after, according to a recent Inclusive
Development report, restructuring the burgeoning economic ties under
the ‘Everything But Arms’ EU initiative may well help restrict the
land grabs that have become symptomatic of what’s been described as
the ‘blood-sugar market’. At some point in the distant past, the
prevention of such land grabs was a central part of the CNRP platform
and Mr. Rainsy would do well to remember this – getting tough with
rather than flirting with the EU would bring far favourable returns
for the dispossessed that he purports to represent.

Further, regional neighbours are not in a viable position to offer
support: take Singapore for instance. Ballooning bilateral trade in
2012 amounted to US$1.52bn but was predominantly constituted by the
private sector. The island city-state hardly has the top-down
strange-hold necessary to bring Cambodia’s economy to its knees and a
diplomatic tap on the wrist is unlikely to engender a Hun Sen U-turn.

The fact is, and it is one that Mr. Rainsy is patently unwilling to
digest, is that beyond the borders of the Kingdom of Wonder there are
few players who are able and fewer still willing, if any, to get
involved. Added to this is that Mr. Rainsy has poisoned his party’s
brand with his staunch and unremitting xenophobia. Rather than cutting
a lonely figure on the international stage his efforts should be
focused on the here and now at home rather than endeavouring to
initiate a campaign of Cambodian isolation.

What then of international aid organisations? Word from within the
CNRP camp is that the party is hoping to hold out until the next
convening of the National Assembly- the budget cannot be approved by
an illegitimate government, the reasoning runs, and therefore the
World Bank would be obliged to withhold their sizeable loans. A bid
then to literally hold Cambodia to ransom. But as history has shown,
the World Bank has a tendency to pay closer attention to a recipient’s
willingness to don the fabled neoliberal golden straightjacket than
political particulars, a task that Cambodia’s staggering and uneven
growth proves Hun Sen is fulfilling with aplomb. Besides, should the
loans be withheld, China (whoapplauded the “free and fair elections of
28th July) has demonstrated a ready willingness to plug any budgetary

That the threat of a national strike seemed to be issued as something
of an afterthought has been more or less confirmed by subsequent
reticence on the topic. A source from within the party has stated that
the CNRP will now wait until after October 23rd to decide whether to
enact it. But a simple reality check may dissuade them from doing
so:Mr. Rainsy proposed that “all factories, all civil servants, all
shopkeepers” should take industrial action for a day, but an
examination of the nuts and bolts of such a move raises serious doubts
as to its efficacy:

The relative anonymity that densely populated urban areas affords has
been a significant contributory factor for popular public turnout on
the campaign trail and during the immediate post-election period but
the expectation of civil service employees to politicise their own
workplace, particularly given that it was part of their job
description to back the CPP in the lead up to 28th July, is a tall
order by any measure and one that can’t be readily relied upon.

Self-employed shop-keepers will punish no one but themselves by
foregoing a day’s worth of revenue and in case Mr. Rainsy was unaware,
a great many of garment workers currently have their hands full over
the more pressing issues of labour rights and wages. To borrow a
phrase so popular during party conference season in the UK, Rainsy
runs the risk of seeming “out of touch” by inflicting this strategy on
his party’s rank and file.

Writing in The Diplomat, Colin Meyn makes the astute observation that
whilst languishing outside the walls of the National Assembly, the
CNRP will be unable to take any credit for favourable development if
and when Hun Sen pushes ahead with his legislative agenda regardless
of their participation. This would be a disastrous waste of the CNRP’s
hard-won socio-political capital.

But his insistence on doing so, at least for the time being,
demonsrates that there’s a chasmic gap between Mr. Rainsy’s love of
the spotlight and his appetite for getting down to business. If it
wasn’t so self-defeating, Rainsy’s idealism could almost be admired,
particularly given that his adversary still commands control of both
the media and the military. But such blinkered ambition can easily
stray into fantasyland and barking from the wings looks now like
hubristic delusion.

Is there a get out here? Yes. Rainsy and his party need urgently to
get pragmatic, pick a battle they can win and start elevating the
significance of a chosen single issue now to give their supporters a
much-needed claim to victory in the short- to mid-term. Rallying
around a single concession – such as a television station or a
thorough shake-up of the NEC – will shift the emphasis from an
unwinnable war to an attainable goal, and afford the CNRP the
opportunity to enter government without suffering the
tail-between-legs humiliation of accepting their seats having won no
gains from Hun Sen to speak of.

Indefatigable though he may be, reality is biting hard for Mr. Rainsy.
No amount of huffing and puffing will blow Hun Sen’s National Assembly

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