The ruling party called the meeting to lay the groundwork for the pivotal upcoming elections planned for 2017 and 2018
Cambodian People’s Party honorary president Heng Samrin yesterday kicked off the party’s first national congress since the watershed July 2013 election, the theme of which, he told supporters, was that reforms would equal “life” for the CPP and the nation.
About 1,000 party rank-and-file gathered at Koh Pich for the opening of the extraordinary congress, which was called so the CPP can lay the groundwork for the pivotal 2017 and 2018 elections.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, the deputy CPP president, first announced that ailing party president Chea Sim would be absent due to health problems. But the premier, who is frequently now referred to as “acting” president, was careful to note that “for us, as long as [he is] alive, [he is] still our party president”.
As Samrin took to the stage, he blamed the opposition party for the fact that the CPP has not had a national congress in nearly two years.
“This is because following the July 2013 election, the situation in Cambodia was provoked by the opposition party and their supporters, who never accepted the election,” he said.
“Their elected candidates did not come to work at the National Assembly and they incited demonstrations and riots and created chaos by all means to topple the government and the CPP.”
In response, he said, appearing to refer to both initial government tolerance of mass street demonstrations and a later violent crackdown, that the CPP had tried to “solve the problem in [both] gentle and firm ways”.
Nonetheless, Samrin admitted, the CPP is now “in a new political context”.
“Although our party has received support from the majority of people in the country, we still acknowledge our party has lost some seats in the National Assembly, while the seats of the opposition have increased,” he said.
“This leads us to study thoroughly the reason [why] ... We must evaluate the strengths and weaknesses, and learn from [this] experience in order to have deep reforms on time and effectively.”
In September 2013, following the election shock, Hun Sen had implored CPP members to “clean” their bodies and “heal” their diseases in a bombastic six-hour speech.
But most analysts agree that the party has not moved fast enough to address widespread grievances among the populace, including corruption, land issues and perceived impunity.
This weekend’s congress, CPP insiders said this week, will see major youth additions to the party’s powerful Central Committee in a bid to recognise the next generation of leaders ahead of the 2017 commune and 2018 national elections.
Journalists were ordered out of the room following Samrin’s address yesterday, but a schedule reveals that a vote for new central committee members will occur tomorrow morning.
Opposition party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that Samrin’s comments blaming his party for post-election chaos were “useless”.
But Sovann added that it was good to see the CPP was implicitly admitting that it had made serious mistakes by characterising the need for reforms as a life-or-death matter.
“That is what we want. So we agree with each other that in the past the CPP went in the wrong direction ... The people need reforms; without reforms they are going to die and the country is going to die.”
Additional reporting by Kevin Ponniah.