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CNRP sets up 'shadow government' to prepare for possible election win

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay addresses reporters yesterday at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay addresses reporters yesterday at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

CNRP sets up 'shadow government' to prepare for possible election win

More than a decade after plans to form a “shadow government” landed an opposition lawmaker in jail, the Cambodia National Rescue Party is trying again, yesterday announcing 10 new internal committees it says will help the party prepare for power should it win the 2018 election.

Speaking at a press conference at the party’s Phnom Penh headquarters, CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said the committees, known as parliamentary working groups, would mirror the current parliamentary commissions, which comprise CNRP and ruling Cambodian People’s Party members and are supposed to provide oversight in their respective sectors.

But more than this, Chhay said the groups – created with help from German political development group Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) – would give the CNRP a mechanism to mirror and respond to the government more broadly, and develop policies for a potential CNRP administration.

“Even though we do not support the great number of ministries in the royal government nowadays, the [CNRP] wants to create, though its expert groups, what we call a shadow government to have the numbers parallel to the important institutions of the nation,” Chhay said, adding that lawmakers would work with outside experts to research their respective fields.

Though shadow governments are the norm in other countries with parliamentary systems such as Britain and Australia, a previous attempt to replicate the concept in Cambodia prompted a draconian response.

Former Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Cheam Channy spent almost a year in jail in 2005 after Hun Sen accused him of planning a revolt by assembling a “shadow army”.

The politician, who is now a CNRP lawmaker, had been named head of the SRP’s Defence, Veteran’s Affairs, Demobilisation and Public Security Committee, one of 14 such groups established by opposition leader Sam Rainsy at the time.

Seemingly undeterred, Channy, who was unreachable yesterday, has again been tapped to head the opposition’s group on the Interior, National Defense and Civil Services.

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The CPP, which opposed Rainsy’s requests for a “shadow cabinet” during political negotiations that followed the post-2013 election National Assembly boycott, reacted cautiously to the announcement yesterday.

Ruling party spokesman Sous Yara said the CNRP was within its rights to create parallel groups to the parliament, or other government bodies, but would face legal action if they broke the law.

“Our law has not yet allowed [us] to do this, but if they want to do it, it is their business,” Yara said.

However, Koul Panha, executive director of government watchdog Comfrel, said there was “nothing illegal” about the opposition’s plans, though he noted the CNRP would have to lobby parliament for official recognition if they wanted public money to support the groups.

Rene Gradwohl, Cambodia country representative for KAS, which this week held a two-day workshop on drafting legislation for the opposition, said the organisation supported the ruling party as well and had discussed developing parliamentary working groups statutes with the CPP.

CNRP lawmaker Uch Serey Yuth, who will head “group three” on planning, the environment and water resources, said his team would visit the provinces and meet with experts before it began to craft a policy platform for next year’s ballot.

Reached yesterday, political analyst Ou Virak congratulated the CNRP for taking a step toward becoming a true “government-in-waiting” rather than simply an “activist party”.

Though with less than a year until the commune elections, Virak said the party needed to begin showcasing what its government would look like, including its size, form, budget and policies.

“It will require leadership; they need to really challenge everybody to step up to the plate,” Virak said.

“Also the two leaders, Mr Sam Rainsy and Mr Kem Sokha, need to not always grab the limelight but allow more leaders … to be leaders in their own field of specialty … It has to be accepted that it’s no longer a two-man show, that it’s a proper party.”

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