Political analysts and social observers say that the phenomenon of former activists and members of opposition parties declaring a political affiliation with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been a regular occurrence since previous mandates. In their view, it simply illustrates the declining influence of the opposition.
Recently, several former core members of the largest opposition party, the Candlelight (CP), announced that they had switched allegiance to the CPP. On May 8, Prime Minister Hun Sen, president of the CPP, welcomed four former opposition leaders to the party, through his personal social media.
The four newest additions to the CPP roster are May Hong Sreang and Oum Sophoan from Preah Sihanouk province, and Dim Saroeun and Ley Sokhon from Battambang.
On April 23, Hun Sen welcomed Hun Kosal, Yim Sinan and several other former activists.
Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, described this aspect of political life as an old pattern of behaviour that has existed for a long time and is perfectly normal in Cambodian politics.
“Many politicians vacillate between parties, depending on the situation,” he said.
“This has been going on for many years, through the first UNTAC-administered elections, from the FUNCINPEC era to the time of the Sam Rainsy Party, and the now-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party [CNRP]. Politicians often change from one to another, because they sense that the opposition parties are ineffective,” he added.
He believed that the political culture of some opposition politicians is misdirected, and they lack a coherent strategic plan. They have not been politically competitive for years, and as a result, the motivation of their followers had decreased. This results in a loss of an audience and of funding, so they often reach for a party that will allow them to accomplish their political goals.
“The recent defection of former opposition members and activists is a sign of the weakening of the influence of the opposition, or the non-governmental parties. Splits among their core members often lead to the overall weakening of the party,” he said.
Cambodian Reform Party (CRP) co-founder and former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath acknowledged that the influence of opposition forces has waned after the dissolution of the CNRP and subsequent individual declarations of political participation with the government.
“We see a number of shortcomings that have led to the weakening of non-governmental parties, from the strategy, leadership, and management to some policies that need to be reformed. There are a lot of shortcomings that need to be addressed if they want to increase their influence,” he said.
Em Sovannara, a lecturer in political science, agreed that the influence of opposition and non-governmental parties has significantly diminished in the lead-up to the upcoming parlimentary election due to internal divisions among opposition groups, and the fact that many activists and former members have been enticed to work with the CPP.
“Luring members of the opposition and other non-governmental parties to join active political life with the ruling party is also an effective way of promoting the CPP,” he added.
Ro Vannak, a geopolitical expert and co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, put the recent defections down to two reasons: The political nous of the ruling party and the weakness of the opposition.
He said the ruling party is adept at offering rewarding roles to the opposition members who have skills that are useful to the country’s development, while non-governmental parties are facing a financial crisis, a lack of human resources and a lack of sound political strategies.
“The voice of the opposition was greatly diminished after the dissolution of the CNRP in 2017, especially the full parliamentary control that the CPP won after the 2018 national election, which effectively created a one-party parliament,” he said.
He noted that despite their waning influence, the participation of opposition parties in the upcoming 7th parliamentary election in July is important, and may break the ruling party’s total grip on parliament.
Commentators all agreed that given the opposition parties’ internal divisions and the defections of so many senior members to the government, none of them is likely to outperform the CPP this July.