Fresh off a clean sweep in the Senate elections on Sunday, a ruling party spokesman and newly elected senator yesterday espoused the benefits of one-party rule in Cambodia, pointing to the example of chief patron China while glossing over longstanding concerns about the superpower’s human rights record.
The comments from CPP spokesman Sok Eysan follow an election whose results were never in question, despite featuring four parties on the ballot. The forced dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party in November, which wiped out the only viable challenger to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, meant that the CPP took almost complete control at the local level and increased its share of National Assembly seats. As Senators are elected by commune councillors and parliamentarians, the results were all but guaranteed.
Eysan yesterday said it would be wrong to “disrespect” the people’s will by getting rid of multi-party democracy, but in the same breath said having one party dominate both houses of parliament would get rid of any legislative obstacles.
“I think that it becomes easier for CPP to lead sustainably because we have already seen two parties [in the National Assembly], and what were the benefits from there being two parties?” he asked.
With 55 seats in the 123-seat Assembly, the CNRP lacked the votes to block legislation and instead took to boycotting votes on controversial laws pushed through by the CPP, doing little to prevent their passage. After the CNRP’s dissolution, the CPP increased its share to 79 seats in the Assembly, while the rest of the CNRP’s seats were divvied up mostly minor parties that won less than 4 percent of the popular vote in 2013 combined.
With only minor parties slated to compete in this July’s national elections, the CPP is expected to win in a landslide and increase its share in the Assembly even further.
Eysan went on to maintain that China’s rapid economic development meant its one-party model couldn’t be seen as repressive.
“It is one-third of the world’s population, and can how we say that they are authoritarian? Their country becomes a world economic superpower already, so it cannot be like that,” he said.
He then questioned the United States’ two-party democratic system, pointing to gridlock between the US Congress and President Donald Trump over a budget bill.
“Because of what? It is because of the opposition party waiting to oppose, and it is an obstacle of his national process,” he said.
Party colleague and CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun yesterday characterised Eysan’s comments as “a point of view that shows the truth”. Vun sidestepped questions about whether or not he would like to see an all-CPP National Assembly.
“I think there is nothing that can confirm an open or restricted democracy in this or that regime, besides the actual situation and whether the regime is running smoothly or not,” he said.
Some international governments and observers have expressed alarm at what they view as a slide into authoritarianism after the government’s moves against the CNRP.
Paul Chambers, a lecturer at the Naresuan University in Thailand, noted that multi-party democracy exists to ensure there are checks and balances to protect the will of the electorate, rather than to ensure an easy path for the prime minister to pass laws. If the aim of doing away with the opposition was to pave the way for smooth and easy passage of legislation, he said, then the CPP should just do away with parliament.
“Wouldn't it be smoother and faster if Hun Sen simply enshrines a personalist dictatorship into power?” he queried.
While in practice the CPP appears to be pushing for a “de-facto one-party state”, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Miguel Chanco said, the party still seemed determined to maintain the façade of democratic institutions, as evidenced by its bringing smaller, pro-CPP parties into the legislature, like Funcinpec.
“The bar is now much lower in ASEAN in terms of what the West is willing to accept – and engage with,” he said.
Former CNRP President Sam Rainsy said the stripping of the opposition’s 5,007 local seats – the vast majority of which were absorbed by the CPP – was a throwback to the ruling party’s lone rule of the country before the Paris Peace Accords.
“A similar farce will take place on July 29 with the CPP expected to win a ‘landslide victory’ at a pre-arranged legislative election, with the prior dissolution of the CNRP as the only parliamentary opposition party,” he said via email.
Political analyst Sebastian Strangio said the “explicit embrace” by a CPP official of one-party rule was “striking”, despite the party never having been in full support of competitive elections.
“As we saw with the abolition of the CNRP and its effacement from Cambodian politics, the CPP no longer needs to go through the democratic motions,” he said by email. “[I]t can now rule, as it did in the pre-1991 period, in a more openly authoritarian manner.”