By Chheang Vannarith
Khmer Times, 7 August 2014
PHNOM PENH, (Khmer Times) – Cambodia’s political power has been transformed.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has gained a roughly equal political playing field vis-à-vis the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The political theater moves toward a bipartisan political system.
But the CNRP faces huge challenges ahead. It needs to find effective ways to manage the expectations of its supporters, and implement its election policy platform. CNRP is expected to be the driving force of reform.
However, it is easier said than done. It is impossible for the CNRP to revamp and restructure the whole complex of state institutions overnight. It needs time. For now, the leadership and institutional capacity of CNRP are not yet up to the task.
It needs to build leadership and management, to strengthen democratic and transparent decision-making process within the party, and to enhance central-local relations.
What does the future hold for the CNRP?
There are three main scenarios for the CNRP’s future development.
First, it will be united under the umbrella of democratic alliance, national rescue mission and nation building. If it performs well in the legislature, it has chance of garnering popularity and expanding its political power base for the next election.
Second, the internal unity of the party may face severe tests as factionalism and conflicts of interests between different groups develop. Bickering over posts could implode the party. Different interest groups may start fighting over power sharing arrangements within the party. Some potentially could be absorbed into the existing power establishment.
Third, although the popularity of CNRP increased remarkably after the last election, leadership and performance will determine its future. The opposition was given a chance to prove itself. If it fails to deliver expected results, then it will lose public support and confidence.
Fighting corruption, providing decent wages for factory workers, and resolving land disputes are the most urgent tasks that need to be tackled. The CNRP alone cannot address these structural complexities. It requires close working relationship with the ruling CPP, development partners, civil society groups, and private corporations.
Facing a stronger CPP
The ruling CPP will politically gain more from achievements of reforms. The executives are more visible to the general public. The opposition, through the National Assembly, will also get credit in this process for shaping the reform path.
The majority of those who voted for the CNRP in the last election expressed dissatisfaction with the CPP’s performance. They did not completely buy into the policies and leadership of the opposition. But they want a stronger opposition in order to have checks and balances.
If the ruling CPP can improve its performance by changing its leadership style, revitalizing public institutions, and improving public communication to the grassroots, then it can restore public trust and confidence.
CPP members have to present themselves differently. For instance, they should not show off their wealth and opulent lifestyle when travelling to meet the masses especially the rural folks. Capable and clean young leaders should be promoted to take leadership roles with responsibility.
What if the reform fails to produce results?
If the reform does not produce good results, the opposition will have high chances of winning the next election. But it will have to put all the blame on the ruling CPP. A core question relates to power transition: will it be smooth and peaceful?
But, it is more likely that both CPP and CNRP will be blamed. Their political support base will shrink. In such a scenario, small parties could win parliamentary seats in the next election.
The political playing field will be transformed from bipartisan back to a multiparty political system. If more than two political parties get seats at the National Assemby, a coalition government is highly possible.
Change is urgently needed.
Both parties have to provide change and continue to co-exist. The ideal scenario would be for CPP and CNRP to work together to develop checks and balances, to strengthen democracy and good governance, to promote inclusive, sustainable and rights-based development, and to improve the justice system.