The head of the Free Trade Union, Chea Mony, has refused to endorse the union’s traditional political ally, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, ahead of July 27 general elections, saying instead that he will not tell his members who they should support.
The move is an abrupt turn-around from the policies of former FTU boss and Mony’s brother, Chea Vichea, who was gunned down in 2004.
“Chea Vichea called for workers to vote for the SRP and that is his legacy,” Mony said.
“I am different from him. I will not appeal for workers to vote for the SRP,” he said, adding though that his union would continue to cooperate with the SRP.
The move could cost Rainsy tens of thousands of votes and diminish what little political leverage he has with the government, according to some analysts.
“Three-hundred thousand workers is a strong force,” said Chea Vannath, former head of the civil society group Center for Social Development.
But Vannath said it was a pragmatic move for the union to distance itself from the opposition leader.
“It is good for Mony not to call for workers to vote for the SRP because it is the workers’ rights to decide who they vote for,” she said.
The head of a second influential trade group, the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), said earlier this month that, while relations remained good with the SRP, he was not sure whether he would back the opposition leader.
“Last election, seeing that the SRP had good policies for teachers we called for our members to vote for SRP,” said Rong Chhun.
“But now the campaign period has not yet begun. When the election has almost arrived, I will [decide].”
Rainsy said on May 9 that he was happy at what he called the FTU’s “newfound independence,” which he said gave it more credibility.
“We have to show that unions are independent,” he said.
“We must recognize and respect the independence of unions. They do not have to be affiliated to a political party. This is good for unions and good for parties.”