A Canadian journalist once wrote: “In politics, perception is reality and the truth is negotiable.” That statement pretty much reflects the remnants of the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s current situation as I see it, sitting in the far nation of Canada.
Many Cambodians, particularly the CNRP grassroots themselves, at home and abroad, wonder what former party President Sam Rainsy thinks he could accomplish with his recent creation of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement. Sure enough, some political observers are of the opinion that such a move is pointless and does more harm than good to the CNRP’s unity and its purported core raison d’être; and that there are better options to deal with the dissolution of CNRP and the imprisonment of its president.
At this juncture, it has become irrelevant whatever the real or good motives behind Rainsy’s CNRM creation may be. What matters is the public perception at large; and right now the perception is that his action once again epitomises his propensity for political improvisation at best, and at worst the blatant power grab.
Some of Rainsy’s supporters love to ask what legacy Prime Minister Hun Sen wishes to leave behind. Perhaps, it is time that they raise that very same question to Rainsy himself.
As for Rainsy’s successor as party president, Kem Sokha, his courageous and steadfast actions in the face of adversity and dangers at this trying time speak loudly, and start to earn him admiration and respect, not only among his supporters but also among some of his detractors possibly for years to come – a political capital which will likely serve him well into the future.
As for Hun Sen, he seems to be cautious but confident enough that he has the current political situation under control, for now. Whatever is thrown at him in the coming months, he’ll manage it one way or the other, and turn it into his advantage as he has done several times over the past 30-plus years.
In the mean time, he continues to benefit from several tailwinds, one of which is his current strategic alliance with China that has been paying off handsomely for his government (and thus party) politically and economically.
Through that alliance, he has managed to delicately and gradually steer Cambodia out of what the opposition adamantly and unabatedly denounce as Vietnam’s continued stealthy hegemony and patronisation; incredibly, he manages to cleverly carry it out without alienating Vietnam too much.
It turns out that Vietnam doesn’t have much of a choice either when it comes to choosing between him and the leader of any opposition party. He senses that and acts on it to strengthen his position vis-à-vis Vietnam on one hand, and weaken the opposition parties on the other hand by denying them the argument that he is serving Vietnam’s interests.
Obviously, all of that political manoeuvring would have not been possible, had he not have secured complete backing from Beijing.
Under Hun Sen, the bilateral relationship with China not only changes the political dynamics of the Kingdom, giving the CPP utter dominance on the Kingdom’s political stage, but also creates tremendous opportunities for a wide range of small and large businesses.
Economically speaking, it is undeniable that the country has never been this rich and developed. That being the case, it is also evident that life has never been this difficult and miserable for many rural and ethnic people in remote regions.
Forced evictions without proper compensation, illegal loggings and uncontrolled deforestations in many cases have harshly and irreversibly altered their way of life.
Reportedly, Hun Sen becomes increasingly aware of and frustrated with the situation as he often publicly rails against local officials who fail to swiftly carry out land distributions to the needy.
Hun Sen remains unquestionably the most powerful figure in the country. With all the real power and financial means at his disposal, he is effectively in a better position than anyone to pioneer and implement further landmark social reforms. The questions are: How far will he commit to it, and how much he will be able to accomplish? That will be his enduring legacy.