Pro-government media outlet Fresh News yesterday took a CNRP workshop with a US-based pro-democracy organisation as an opportunity to publish a scathing article likening the opposition to the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, a comparison dismissed as “absurd” by the opposition and scholars alike.
Members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party met with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on Friday and Saturday for a training session on “message development and delivery”, tools the party hopes to use to better publicise its platform among voters.
“We will bring the information we learned to all the campaign teams to have a consistent party message and strategy to reach voters,” said deputy party president Mu Sochua.
But the Fresh News article – which was not marked as an opinion piece, and was formatted like the site’s usual news stories – seemed to suggest the workshop was evidence of the CNRP’s lack of a “roadmap”, going on to warn that the party taking power could lead to instability on the same level as the Khmer Rouge.
An estimated 2 million people lost their lives in less than four years under Khmer Rouge rule, and the regime’s most senior surviving members are on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide.
Saying the CNRP lacks “any clear policy or roadmap to lead the nation”, the article slams the party for not having specific policies and for receiving outside help from Western organisations, though it fails to note that the ruling CPP also works with NDI.
“Remember that because of the uncertainty of the direction of this country, leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea of Pol Pot in just three years, eight months and 20 days (17 April 1975-7 January 1979), reduced a once-famous country in modern society down to nothing,” the article says.
The comparison was universally dismissed by historians and political analysts yesterday.Renowned Cambodian historian David Chandler rejected the notion that the Khmer Rouge didn’t have a plan, and accused the CPP of lacking a roadmap themselves.
“The KR had a grotesque but detailed road map that they concealed from everyone but their top cadre. The CPP’s road map seems to be that it needs to stay perpetually in power, so roadmap may be an inappropriate term,” he said via email.
Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia specialist, said that while many of the CNRP’s political positions may be “fluff”, the comparison to the Khmer Rouge was “overkill” and “hyperbole”.While he agreed that the CPP’s main motivation was to stay in power, he said he also believed genuine development was a means to that end.
“It’s performance legitimacy. They have to deliver the goods in developing the country,” he said.
Sochua, meanwhile, refused to respond to the “absurd” comparison in the Fresh News article, but pointed to the efficacy of the CNRP’s campaign as evidence that the party is well organised and equipped to take control of the government.
“This is the first time that an opposition party has had candidates in all communes a party that has mobilised 3 million voters surely has a plan,” she said.Fresh News CEO Lim Cheavutha, for his part, denied that the article was an attack.
“We have not accused anybody,” he said.“It’s just a point to be raised that unclear leadership can lead to this or that,” he added, asserting that people across the country believe that the Kingdom needs strong management.
Local analyst Ou Virak, however, said Fresh News was “not even trying to hide” the fact that it’s a propaganda vehicle for the CPP. Virak said he expected the media source to ramp up criticism of the opposition party leading up to the election but said articles like yesterday’s wouldn’t be effective.
“It has to be somewhat reasonable,” he said.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara