Activists and NGO workers who have long agitated for political change in Cambodia, a goal which naturally aligned them with the opposition, have expressed frustration with the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s current “soft” political approach towards the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Since Prime Minister Hun Sen last month called for the prosecution of CNRP lawmakers and threatened to cut off the new “culture of dialogue” between the parties, the opposition has refrained from making any tough criticisms of its political foe.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy told the Post on January 29 that his party had decided to respect the CPP “in deeds and also in words”, marking a rapid switch in the tone that opposition politicians, deputy leader Kem Sokha in particular, had been using at grassroots forums only days before.
But well-known activists who were often seen at CNRP-led, anti-government protests in 2013, such as Moeun Tola of the Community Legal Education Center, say “dialogue” should not mean a muzzle is placed on the opposition.
“Frankly speaking, I am really disappointed with the CNRP. They are very, very soft. You know, I appreciate the dialogue, but I would remind both the CNRP and CPP that criticism is not bad,” he said.
Since the July 22 agreement between the two parties that pledged cooperation on reforms, the ruling party has shown “bad faith”, he continued, by pursuing what many believe are politically motivated cases against politicians and land rights activists.
“And it makes no sense at all that the CNRP just keeps silent without speaking the truth,” Tola said. “When we talk with communities, land activists, labour activists, they all criticise [the CNRP] and people are watching closely what the CNRP are doing at the moment.”
Other activists say they have decided not to place their trust in political parties in the future as a result of the perceived change in the opposition’s priorities.
Ee Sarom, executive director at urban housing rights NGO, STT, said that it had made sense for the communities he represents to join with the CNRP in 2013.
“The people had common issues, common goals, so when the CNRP started to call out about injustice and democracy . . . that’s what Cambodians [were] looking for, so they moved together in the same way,” he said.
“But now it looks a bit like the CNRP has sidelined those people and they only care about their own party . . . [So] now we are trying to rely on our own activity instead of the people in power.”
Rainsy yesterday argued that his party was using the “strong leverage” it gained in 2013 to push the CPP to make fundamental reforms in a number of areas using what he called a “realistic and practical approach”.
“Behind these soft and diplomatic words, you can imagine the tough measures that will have to be taken given the powerful entrenched interests traditionally opposed to any reforms,” he said in an email, adding he believed that strong pressure was coming from within the CPP.
The CNRP leader admitted that his party had realised a strongly adversarial approach in opposition wouldn’t be very effective. “Under the present circumstances, as long as we are true to ourselves, this [current approach] is the only viable and effective option for a responsible party fighting for a democratic and peaceful change,” he said.
To Boeung Kak lake activist Chan Puthisak, however, it’s clear that, “culture of dialogue” or not, whatever leverage the CNRP gained during its year of post-election protest doesn’t appear to be amounting to much.
“We do not have hope in [the CNRP]. How can we have hope in them even if their own members are in jail and they cannot help?”