Once again since the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party ended its boycott of parliament in July, the party is finding itself rebutting claims that it has ceded too much ground to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
In an agreement reached between Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy on Friday, the CNRP was granted a television station licence while Rainsy was made the parliament’s minority leader, a position formally “equal” to Hun Sen’s.
In return, the CNRP relented on a major sticking point by agreeing that no members of the National Election Committee could hold multiple nationalities, seemingly ruling out rights activist Pung Chhiv Kek from the position.
In an email to CNRP supporters, public relations director Mu Sochua appeared to address such criticisms against the party, saying that the “CNRP made no ‘major concessions’ on election reforms as reported by the media.”
Although supportive of the agreement overall, Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Comfrel, said he had problems with the controversial clause.
“On this point, it’s not that good,” said Panha. “In our political institutions and in the government, they have always included people [who have other nationalities] because so many were refugees and came from outside the country because of the killing fields.”
The agreement has also brought comparisons between the CNRP and the ill-fated royalist political party Funcinpec.
In the 1990s, Funcinpec’s then leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, served as co-prime minister to Hun Sen but was eventually forced out of power despite his position.
Moeung Sonn, a former board member of the Sam Rainsy Party who went into self-imposed exile in France in 2009, said the agreement would make the CNRP “look like Funcinpec”.
“[The minority leader] position is for advice only. It’s not a good idea,” Sonn said.
“[The CPP] don’t care about the CNRP’s suggestions.”
Sochua’s email also addressed the comparison, urging supporters to “please rest assured that President Sam Rainsy, the Minority Leader will not be the 2nd [prime minister] as during the FUNCINPEC led govt.”
Indeed, Comfrel’s Panha said that the CNRP’s position today is “much stronger” than Funcinpec’s in the past, as the royalist party was in a coalition with the CPP and had far less independence.
“In the end, we will see for the implementation of this agreement. We need more action and monitoring,” Panha said. “Yeah, it’s not easy.”
But the controversy may be of benefit to others.
Former political analyst Kem Ley, whose new political “network” Khmer for Khmer will decide on whether to become a new party next month, said the agreement would help “kill the CNRP’s popularity”.
“[The CNRP] are just taking these titles, [but] the CPP will play whatever they want to play.”
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