SRP president Sam Rainsy has brushed off concerns over recent defections from his party by saying the exodus toward the ruling CPP allows his party to strengthen its ideological base, although others are asking why those who supposedly once shared the SRP's principles are now deciding to leave.
The NRP was quick to take advantage of defections from the SRP, arguing that it is only through the formation of a "united democratic front" that opposition parties can survive.
A reconciliatory tone has
disappeared from February media coverage as political parties attempt to score
points for this year’s general elections. The dominant story concerns
defections of senior Sam Rainsy Party members to the CPP and Prince Ranariddh’s
continuing search for a role in the elections. In this month’s media analysis, Kheang Un
examines the politics surrounding these defections and looks at how different
political parties reacted to these developments.
Defections from the SRP of its senior officers have
raised many issues concerning the viability of the party as a sustainable
opposition and its potential in this year’s national elections. Defectors
claimed that their defections derived from structural problems within the
Despite the SRP’s rhetoric
of following democratic principles, the party, defectors claimed, is
characterized by autocracy, nepotism, corruption and incompetent leadership.
They alleged some SRP
leaders, particularly Eng Chhay Eang, were incompetent. Eng Chhay Eang’s
gambling addiction – which he claimed was no longer an issue – was raised by
defectors as an impediment to his leadership.
these problems within the SRP, defectors said they had not been able to
contribute to the development of the country.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party accepted the defectors with open arms. In
gratitude and as a way to capitalize on the defectors “expertise and
conscience,” Prime Minister Hun Sen offered the defectors high government
portfolios as advisors to the Prime Minister or to the government with a rank
equal to that of secretary of state or minister.
Opposition lawmaker Son
Chhay charged that the Prime Minister’s decision not only wasted government
revenue but was also illegal.
The Prime Minister brushed
Son Chhay’s criticism aside, arguing that the government would benefit from
these defectors for they had been outside of the government and thus were able
to see the government’s shortcomings and offer constructive advice.
As expected, the SRP
downplayed the impact of recent defections, stating that they would not affect
the party. The party charged that these defectors “sold their conscience” and
that their decisions were based on personal ambition and interests.
Their decision to defect at
this critical time was to maximize their bargaining power, the party says.
The CPP was quick to
capitalize on these opportunities to weaken the SRP.
Impact of defections
stated that it will be able to replace these defectors with idealist cadres who
will put “national interests” above “personal interests.” This could be true.
SRP members receive little benefit from their political activism and would not
be able to stay with the Sam Rainsy Party if they were not idealistic or
determined to change the status quo.
The SRP’s denial of the
impact of these defections notwithstanding, a puzzling question arises in that
these members have been idealistic and have been the vanguards of the SRP for
almost a decade; so what has prompted them to become non-idealistic at this
Pro-CPP newspapers opined
that because of recent defections the SRP might face the fate suffered by
Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) – party disintegration.
on March 12, 2008 ran the headline “SRP’s Blood Drips Prior to the Elections.”
However, the recent defections can be seen as a cut but not a deep wound for
the SRP for a few fundamental reasons.
Firstly, due to a lack of
effort for grassroots mobilization, Funcinpec since the 1993 elections has been
a top heavy party. Thus, defections of its senior members gravely affect the
On the contrary, the SRP,
despite its reliance on Sam Rainsy’s
popularity, has worked hard to build grassroots support. Taking advantage of
decentralization, the SRP has extended its reach from urban to rural areas. As
such, the defections of some of its senior members might not be as likely to
destabilize the party.
Secondly, the gravity of the
impact of the defections on SRP will depend on the scope of these defectors as
“movers” and “shakers” within the SRP.
defectors have strong connections to and popularity among SRP grassroots
supporters, then their defections will negatively affect the party.
Their accusations of “corruption,
autocracy, and nepotism” within the SRP will affect the reputation of the SRP,
which has built a niche within the Cambodian political arena based on the
rhetoric of democracy and transparency. Under these conditions, defectors’ claims might prompt some voters to
reconsider their trust in the SRP.
But if, to the contrary, these defectors were not very popular among grassroots SRP
supporters, then the defections will have some but not significant
psychological impact on the SRP.
A more grave concern for the
SRP is a reported claim by recent defectors that there will be about 30 commune
councilors leaving the party for the CPP. If this were to occur, it would be a
severe blow for the SRP.
Unlike the defected senior
party officers, these councilors are close to grassroots SRP supporters and
serve as the party’s foot soldiers, devoting their energy and time to widen
political local space and to mobilize villagers. However, the truth of this
claim remains to be seen.
NRP on shaky ground
The NRP remains in a state
of uncertainty due to the inability of its leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, to
return to Cambodia.
Various venues have been
employed by the NRP to secure the return of its leader. As its judicial appeal
remains in limbo, the NRP with support from some NGOs appealed to the King for
clemency, though no result has yet emerged.
As previous analyses have
shown, the NRP has not been able to find a niche within the current political
supporters are unidentifiable while its policy platforms are fluid. While they
protested certain principles in abstract, such as land grabbing, workers’ wages
and working conditions, they did not follow up these protests with any action.
SRP lawmakers, in contrast,
made political statements followed by political activism such as boycotting the
National Assembly session to protests against the eviction of residents of Dey
Krahom commune and participating in protest organized by factory workers.
The NRP is persistent in its
efforts to form a coalition with the SRP and Human Rights Party (HRP).
It was quick to take
advantage of defections from the SRP, arguing that it is only through the
formation of a “united democratic front” that opposition parties can survive.
Given its weak political
capital, pro-SRP and pro-HRP newspapers label the NRP’s appeal for “unification
of democrats” as an effort “to bake a cake without ingredients.”
Kheang Un, PhD, is assistant director of the
Center for Southeast Asian Studies and an adjunct professor in the Department
of Political Science, Northern
Illinois University, US.
The Cambodia Development Resource Institute’s Conflict Prevention in Cambodian
Election (COPCEL) project notes: This is an independent analysis on media
monitoring extracted from 15 Cambodian newspapers. This is the seventh analysis of an ongoing series. The
15 newspapers chosen by COPCEL for monitoring are owned or sponsored by
political parties, with the exception of the
Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post which are foreign owned. Consequently,
their reports and commentaries are biased toward a particular party. Although
such biases are normal in any society, in the Cambodian context these are not
based on clear policy agendas or ideologies but, more often than not, on poorly
documented personal attacks. Bias
notwithstanding, reports and commentaries by these newspapers do reflect the
trends of Cambodia’s