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Index stresses risk of violence

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) popularity will continue to wane, and change is on the horizon for Cambodia, although that change could be violent, according to the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) 2016 report.

The BTI has been published every two years since 2006, monitoring countries’ progress towards democracy. At 3.7 out of 10 this year, Cambodia’s “democracy status” is the lowest it has been in the history of the BTI.

Ten years ago, the BTI classified Cambodia as a “moderate autocracy”, but since 2012, the Kingdom’s ranking has slipped to that of “hard-line autocracy”.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday argued that the meaning of “democracy” varied between countries and that to compare them was meaningless.

“Well, we have a style of Cambodian democracy. From some points of culture and how they manage their country, each nation has their own value of democracy,” said Siphan.

“The imposition of Western democracy in Cambodia was a failure in the 1970s. The same in the Middle East. Imposing democracy doesn’t work.”

Political analyst Ou Virak yesterday said to characterise Cambodia as autocratic was “definitely inaccurate”.

“No, that’s not true, I’ve been here long enough, 10, 12 years. People have social media, it’s generally free, people are more willing to express themselves,” said Virak. “Looking at the past three or four years, the momentum shift took place in 2013.”

Virak also took issue with a claim by the BTI report that it was “very unlikely the ruling CPP will be able to reverse the trend of [its] decreasing popularity”.

Virak said while there was a surge of support for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) during the 2013 elections, which the CPP won by just 13 seats, that support had since been dampened and both sides now had an opportunity to take the lead in the 2018 national elections.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan was adamant last night that while his party did concede parliamentary seats in 2013, they did not lose voters.

“The writers do not understand the Cambodian context because they live in Germany and they don’t understand the real situation in Cambodia,” said Eysan.

The report also concludes that there is a “considerable danger” that violence will erupt in 2018.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly suggested that civil war was possible if his government lost power at the elections.

“It is highly likely that the current government will use the security forces to crack down on any public protests in the aftermath of the election,” the report reads. Neither Virak nor government spokesman Siphan took issue with this statement.

“We have an obligation to do that,” said Siphan. “If we don’t do that we have no peace right now, we have no public order. Our mandate is to make sure public order is maintained.”

Virak said violence was likely in 2018, adding: “It also depends on the outcome of the election, it’s hugely dependent on the outcome of the election.”

Multiple representatives of the CNRP were unreachable for comment yesterday.

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