By Denise Hruby - July 27, 2013
On Sunday, the nation will largely divide into two camps: There will
be those who think that the past 20 years have brought financial and
political stability, infrastructure and new business opportunities—in
short, overall development and prosperity. And there will be those who,
despite the progress, see that the past two decades have brought rampant
corruption, abuse of human rights, land grabbing and the concentration
of power and wealth in the political families of Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling
The vote is expected to go the CPP’s way, giving Prime Minister Hun
Sen another five years in power, but independent analysts still believe
that anything can happen.
“Among Cambodian observers, there are some who have inside knowledge
and some who are armchair observers. Some say the CPP will win with a
reduced majority, some say they [CPP and Cambodia National Rescue Party]
are running neck-to-neck,” independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay
According to Mr. Mong Hay and other observers, there are three
possible outcomes of Sunday’s vote: The CPP scores big and increases its
parliamentary seats from the 90 it currently holds; the CPP loses seats
to the CNRP, but still wins enough to form a new government alone; or,
the electorate produces a stunning surprise and the CPP loses to the
Scenario 1: The CPP expands from 90 seats.
According to observers, even if the CPP wins another majority on
Sunday, the huge outpouring of support for the CNRP has given Mr. Hun
Sen and his long-ruling party food for thought, and there is a chance
they may slightly change their policies to cater to the demands of a
young generation of voters, who have moved to the opposition.
As some of the most senior CPP leaders are in the advanced stages of
old age, changes in the CPP’s leadership should to be expected,
particularly among aging ministers.
According to Mr. Mong Hay, Chan Sarun, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, is in a particularly weak position if the CPP
chooses to reform, as he has failed to improve production quality or
implement policies that could make Cambodia competitive within the Asean community, particularly as the Asean free trade area is scheduled for 2015.
Hor Namhong, minister of foreign affairs, is also in a weakened position, Mr. Mong Hay said, after Cambodia’s unsuccessful bid for a
non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council last year. Cambodia’s
human rights record, particularly its treatment of refugees, was cited
as one reason the country was not seen as a viable contender for the
Security Council seat.
“The foreign affairs diplomacy was not successful at all, our policy has been the worst” in recent years, Mr. Mong Hay said.
Beyond likely reform in the CPP’s inner circle, a landslide win for
Mr. Hun Sen’s party will also be met with deep disappointment by
millions of opposition voters, especially the youth who will be going to
the polls for the first time on Sunday and believe that they can bring
If their hopes are dashed by a large CPP victory, or if they feel
that they were cheated of their votes because of election
irregularities, violence could erupt on the streets, independent
political analyst Kem Ley said.
“If the CPP wins with a majority, the community as a whole will say
the elections’ results were prepared earlier and that the voter lists
were manipulated. Especially the young will do something against the
results and the government will use bans and everything they can against the Cambodian youth. There will be violence and there will be bloodshed,” Mr. Ley said.
Eventually, the protests will subside, and another five years under the CPP will follow.
“Basically, it will be the exact same as before,” with minor changes, Mr. Mong Hay said.
Scenario 2: The CPP loses seats, but maintains a majority to form a government.
Losing its vast majority of seats at the National Assembly would be a
wake-up call for the CPP and would seriously harm the position of Mr.
Hun Sen as the ruling party’s long-standing candidate for prime
minister. He has long positioned himself as the CPP’s lone candidate for
prime minister, and a strong vote for the opposition could be seen as a
symbolic defeat for Mr. Hun Sen as the ruling party’s candidate.
While CPP election posters focus on the party’s leadership
triumvirate of Mr. Hun Sen, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Senate President Chea Sim, this year’s campaign is much more focused on the prime minister, Mr. Mong Hay said.
“There is a move away from the collective leadership. Now, the
message is: Hun Sen is the effective leader. He has the power, it’s all
in his hands,” he said.
With the personality cult Mr. Hun Sen has created around his persona, the stakes are high on Sunday.
“If he loses the majority, his position in the party is
questionable, he will be in the position of Malaysia’s [Prime Minister]
Najib [Razak],” who lost a majority in May and will likely be challenged
for leadership of his own party later this year, Mr. Mong Hay said.
Currently, Mr. Hun Sen’s role as prime minister is uncontested, not
least because his family members, especially his children, have risen to
senior positions within the CPP and other key facilities to help secure
their father’s position, he said.
A loss of seats by the CPP, however, would mean a change of CPP
policies, as they would have to give way to some of the opposition’s
ideas owing to the CNRP’s increased role in the Assembly.
The CNRP, as they have promised, will be expected to introduce
harsher laws on immigration, especially for Vietnamese citizens, and
If the CPP loses more than 20 seats, major reforms within the party
are likely to take place to appease young voters, said Mr. Ley.
“There will be a move from a policy that favors the rich to a policy for the poor,” Mr. Ley said.
The CNRP gaining seats, but not winning a majority, would also help
maintain peace, he said. Opposition supporters would be satisfied with
the result and the CPP would not fear an outright loss of their
“Everybody would accept the results, especially if the CNRP gets 50
or 60 seats [of 123], they would be satisfied,” Mr. Ley said.
Scenario 3: The CPP loses to the CNRP.
Currently the most unlikely of outcomes, a CNRP win on Sunday is
also the most fraught. Mr. Hun Sen warned on many occasions last month
that an opposition win would reignite civil war, though who would fight
this war, Mr. Hun Sen did not reveal.
While CPP officials have said that they would accept the outcome of
the elections, political analysts interviewed for this article parted
company on what would happen if the CNRP were to win.
Mr. Mong Hay said that the CNRP would form a government, but would fail to rule due to CPP interference and boycotts.
“Most civil servants are CPP, they would demand higher wages, better
working conditions or say they are lacking resources to implement
policies,” which, eventually, would lead to the collapse of the new
government, he said.
Mr. Ley, however, painted a darker picture, saying that a win for the CNRP would be the “worst thing that could happen.”
The CPP, Mr. Ley said, would try to cling to power by using police
and military—both loyal to the CPP—and Mr. Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard
unit, which is estimated now to be about 10,000 men and is armed with
the best and most sophisticated weaponry of any fighting unit in the
“They will safeguard him [Mr. Hun Sen]. He can use them anytime he wants,” Mr. Ley said.
“There will be chaos, the [CPP] government will hold on to their
power and Cambodia will be in the same situation as Burma in 1990 when
the [National League for Democracy] won and the military party arrested
almost all politicians,” Mr. Ley predicted.
No matter the outcome, this Sunday will set the course for the next
five years, and in many ways, the election has already been historic.
For the first time, opposition supporters have openly spoken their
minds and donned CNRP hats and T-shirts in public without fearing the
same intimidation as during previous elections.
A young generation of voters as well as the educated and urban
middle-class, who spread and access information through social networks
have become politically engaged and expect more than just basic
stability and an absence of war, Mr. Mong Hay said.
“The legitimacy of the [CPP] elders comes from the overthrow of the
Khmer Rouge regime but there is a new society where more and more people
have access to media and social networks. They are more articulate and
more educated and have different expectations,” Mr. Mong Hay said.
In the long run, he added, power will not be concentrated in one party forever.
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