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Myanmar opposition victory resonates in Cambodia

Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy speaks to reporters in Tokyo yesterday as CNRP deputy chief Kem Sokha looks on.
Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy speaks to reporters in Tokyo yesterday as CNRP deputy chief Kem Sokha looks on. AFP

Myanmar opposition victory resonates in Cambodia

Cambodia's opposition leader yesterday lauded the success of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Myanmar’s historic election, an outcome he said will help pave the way for his party’s own electoral victory.

In a post on his Facebook page, Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy welcomed “the landslide victory” of the NLD, which he said is “good news for democracy all over the world, especially for
Cambodia”.

He later told the Post that the NLD’s expected victory in Myanmar’s election “shows, once more, that the days of all authoritarian regimes worldwide are counted”.

“The wind of freedom that is blowing throughout the world will also reach Cambodia in the near future,” he said.

Rainsy went on to recall a trip to Yangon in March 2013 during which he met with Suu Kyi and “discussed the possibility of all democrats in our region joining hands to help bring about a democratic and peaceful change in our respective countries”.

Cambodia, which has been ruled by Prime Minister Hun Sen for more than 30 years, is set to go to the polls in 2018, with commune elections a year earlier.

During a visit to Japan yesterday, Rainsy called on the international community to ensure that the upcoming elections are truly democratic.

Having observed the Myanmar elections, Cambodia’s current leaders “want to avoid the democratic process, any democratic elections in the future”, he said in Tokyo.

“They [the international community] should insist that democratic elections will be held as scheduled,” he told reporters. “The free world has a very high leverage so they should not be complacent nor lenient” on the Hun Sen regime.

Sok Eysan, spokesman of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, dismissed Rainsy’s remarks, while saying the CPP, too, applauded the NLD’s democratic success.

“We congratulate the victory of the real patriotic democratic party of Myanmar and we respect the Myanmar people’s resolve throughout the election,” he said.

But, he added, comparisons between the CNRP and NLD were misplaced.

“The opposition party in Myanmar has a clear patriotic spirit. Every activity of the opposition party is in the Myanmar people’s interest. But the opposition party in Cambodia is completely different . . . It is 180 degrees different,” he said. “The opposition party in Cambodia does not have patriotic ideals but ideals of revenge, to block powerful countries from offering aid to Cambodia.”

Observers agreed yesterday that the outcome of Myanmar’s most democratic election in 25 years would inevitably have a bearing on Cambodia’s political future.

“It’s already had an impact on Cambodia. Politicians on both sides have been paying very close attention,” said Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank.

Virak drew comparisons between fears in Myanmar of a military coup in the case of an NLD victory and recent threats from Hun Sen that a CNRP victory in 2018 would lead to civil war. Support for the opposition in the face of those fears, he said, could inspire Cambodians to do the same.

But Virak said that while the NLD’s success would have a “huge impact on the momentum of the opposition”, it was important to remember that the election here is still more than two years away.

Political commentator Ok Serei Sopheak said that while it was “legitimate for the CNRP to be hopeful, I would recommend a lot of caution”.

“The situation is completely different” in the two countries, he said, explaining that the CNRP could not expect to mirror the journey of the NLD.

But, he added, the Myanmar election had undoubtedly captured the thoughts and imaginations of people across the country.

“Everyone in Cambodia is following the election,” he said. “On Facebook, a lot of the youths are talking about it. It’s the primary news that has been commented on.”

Political blogger Ou Ritthy said the election was being discussed on social media “as if it is Cambodia’s political issue”.

On Rainsy’s post, hundreds of opposition supporters joined him in congratulating the NLD and expressing hopes for change.

“Next will be Cambodia to change leader,” wrote one user. “We want the change [here] in Cambodia as well,” another said.

However, Ritthy said both the CNRP and the CPP could stand to learn lessons from the Myanmar election.

“I urge that the CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha study Aung San Suu Kyi’s soft approaches to fight for a democratic change,” he said. In the “last election [in] 2013, Sam Rainsy shamed the three top CPP leaders time and again as the losers in their three respective constituencies; such political rhetoric should not happen again for the election [in] 2018”.

As for the ruling party, Ritthy said that it should learn “to have a peaceful election, rather than threatening civil war”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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