Ending Political Deadlock, What Next?

Ending Political Deadlock, What Next?

Thursday, 24 July 2014; News by Chheang Vannarith

PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – Finally, on July 22, both political parties, -the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), -broke the political deadlock that has lasted since the parliamentary elections in July 2013. The CNRP’s elected parliament members agreed to take their seats in the National Assembly, ending a nearly one year boycott.

Both parties agreed on reforms of the National Election Committee (NEC) and the National Assembly. But, reforms of other sectors and institutions are just generally referred to, without further elaboration. More rounds of talks will be needed to change these agendas.

The composition of the NEC membership will be reconfigured. Four candidates will be appointed from each party. The remaining question lies in the modality of electing the independent candidate — whether it will be based on a two-third majority or fifty plus one in the National Assembly, or another option agreed to by the two parties.

The National Assembly will be reshuffled as well. The position of the first Vice President of the National Assembly will be given to the CNRP. Five out of 10 commissions will be chaired by the CNRP. Other leadership positions remain under the CPP.

The agreement shows that both the opposition CNRP and the ruling CPP have a roughly equal playing field in the National Assembly and NEC. It will create an impetus to crystalize and concretize the reform agenda, strengthen checks and balances, and speed up electoral reform leading up to the next general election. The two parties are to negotiate the election date.

Who benefits from such political breakthrough?

Both parties gained from the agreement. For the ruling CPP, it gains complete legitimacy both legally and morally. The international donor community is going to pour in more development assistance and foreign investors will feel more confident. Particularly, if it improves public trust and confidence in the government. For the reforms to be successful, support and participation is needed from everyone, from different political groups.

For the opposition, it gains more political space and leverage in the National Assembly in carrying out its political platforms. It will gain a platform to pursue such election campaign promises such as fighting corruption, and resolving land disputes,

Increasing salaries for factory workers, civil servants, the armed forces, and pensions for the elderly is also an issue.

Cambodian people are the key beneficiaries of this political reconciliation process. More opportunities will be generated especially for the young workers, once political stability is guaranteed, inclusive growth is pursued, and rights-based development is implemented.

Works to match words

It is the first time that the opposition party gains such a political role and clout in the legislature and several other independent state institutions. But, if the opposition cannot put their words into action its reform rhetoric, then its political support base will shrink. Local and international observers will watch closely to observe the performance of the opposition.

Competes to gain popularity

Both parties are going to compete intensely with each other to gain public trust and support for the next election. It will be a defining moment for both parties. It will be Cambodia’s most competitive election ever.

While national consensus is needed for the success of the reform, both parties may have different approaches and strategies to publicize their results-based reforms. In such case, public communication and outreach may determine who will win the majority of people’s hearts.

Demands different leadership style

From now, a new type of leadership is required at both national and local levels. Servant or people-oriented leadership is required. Political mindsets and attitudes must be changed as well. Political tactics need to change from money politics to heart-winning politics, from political discrimination to political inclusion, from pushing to pulling those who share different political views.

Both parties need to figure out ways to neutralize and incorporate those who stay at another spectrum rather than further distance them. The political playing field will be different and the young generation of leadership will play an increasing important role in attracting more popular support. Down-to-earth politicians with fresh and innovative ideas will certainly gain public trust and support.

Chheang Vannarith, a native of Cambodia, lectures on Asia Pacific studies at the University of Leeds, Britain. He is also an Asian Public Intellectuals fellow of the Nippon Foundation, of Tokyo, and a senior fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace.

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