The National Assembly elected two members of Funcinpec to the Senate on Monday, completing the 62-member legislative body dominated by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The lawmakers voted in Chea Chantevy and Suon Mean, both representatives of a royalist party that won less than 2 percent of the vote in 2017’s local elections and which has benefitted greatly from the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Neither are “high-ranking” party officials, according to Funcinpec spokesman Nheb Bun Chhin.
“No need to be high-ranking, no need to be rich . . . We see they can perform and are committed to the party,” he said, adding that Mean was a former ministry official, although he did not know which ministry.
A Ministry of Environment official of the same name was arrested in 2016 for allegedly selling protected land, but Bun Chhin could not confirm it was the same person, and party Secretary-General Yim Savy would not address the question.
Funcinpec was one of two minor political parties that filed a complaint against the CNRP for alleged treasonous activity, ultimately resulting in the party’s forced dissolution at the hands of the Supreme Court. As a result of that decision, and of legal manoeuvring to reallocate CNRP positions, it gained 41 seats in the National Assembly.
Yoeurng Sotheara, a legal expert formerly at election watchdog Comfrel, said the Senate appointments of presumably more cooperative lawmakers are part of a ploy to maintain the illusion of multiparty democracy, while securing power in the ruling party. “The appointments by the National Assembly are . . . to avoid criticism,” Sotheara said.
Even Bun Chhin seemed resigned to the fact that his party would be essentially powerless in the Senate. “Ah, my friend, only two. How can you influence those 60 people?” he said.
The once-powerful royalist party won Cambodia’s first elections in 1993, although Hun Sen still declared himself co-prime minister. In 1997, Hun Sen fully consolidated his power by defeating Funcinpec-loyal forces in via bloody factional fighting. He has been in power ever since, while Funcinpec’s relevance has declined over time.
Rather than challenging the CPP in the Senate, Funcinpec hopes to initiate an effort to rebuild their “credibility” and “reputation”, according to Bun Chhin.
That reputation has come under fire due to the manner in which it has re-emerged, however, with observers accusing the royalists of striking a political deal in exchange for the seats.
The first 58 Senators were elected jointly by the commune councils and National Assembly, with two others appointed by King Norodom Sihamoni. With the CPP now occupying 11,510 out of 11,572 commune council positions, the ruling party easily took all of the upper house’s elected seats.
Noting that Funcinpec’s president, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, had already declared his “cooperation” with the ruling party, Sotheara said the selections preserve the “features” of democracy, but not the substance. “The real sense of democracy is nothing,” he said. “There’s no real opposition party.”
How the dissolution of the CNRP changed the makeup of Cambodia's parliament:
Article updated 6:48am, Tuesday April 10, 2018