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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Defections rattle opposition parties

Defections rattle opposition parties



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.


Due to

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.



Kampuchea Daily

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. 

If these

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



Its core

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

political developments.



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