The national budget for 2014, along with two other laws, sailed through a parliament consisting solely of ruling party lawmakers yesterday.
But while the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s ongoing boycott of the National Assembly meant it was unable to debate the merits of the spending bill in the halls of parliament, the party has also consistently declined to offer detailed public criticism or analysis of legislation from the sidelines.
The reason given has been consistent: the assembly was formed “illegally”, and any laws it produces are also illegal.
Some analysts yesterday questioned whether this logic, and the boycott itself, continue to make sense as opposition strategy.
Political and social researcher Kem Ley said the opposition should set up technical working groups to review draft laws proposed by the government and share their criticisms with the public while outside the assembly.
“There was no strong technical team to review the [budget] law and provide feedback. When they provided their feedback it was just based on opinion without concrete criticisms,” he said.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that the CNRP’s strategy would not build confidence in its ability to govern.
“They need to look at [the budget], they need to analyse it. I think the fact that they didn’t do that shows a lack of depth in terms of their ability to look at national policies,” he said.
Virak added that if the ruling party began moving forth with real reform – the prime minister recently called for a draft freedom of information law to be expedited – while the opposition simply boycotts, it could erode the CNRP’s legitimacy.
“People will start looking at the [government] as more legitimate and that is the danger. Because at the end of the day, the CNRP could be sitting outside for a lot of time.”
Peter Tan Keo, an independent analyst, said the opposition’s lack of engagement with policy was “childish”.
“The approach is not only childish, but the opposition’s inability to get beyond elections or electoral reforms – and perhaps Mr Rainsy’s obsession with toppling Mr Hun Sen – is the party’s Achilles’ heel.
“That obsession blurs its vision to plan and strategise for the future,” he said.
“Contrary to what the CNRP thinks, the call for protests and ultimatums – though credible – aren’t the party’s biggest political weapon. It’s negotiating terms and leading reforms through the National Assembly.”
Ou Chanrith, an opposition lawmaker, confirmed yesterday that his party’s position on offering detailed criticisms of proposed government legislation remained the same.
“Why should we? Because we do not recognise the legitimacy of the National Assembly at this time,” he said.