Critical Time Ahead for the Ruling CPP

The race for political power in Cambodia has gained steam as the elections are approaching. The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) are the two key competitors in the race.
The CPP is facing mounting challenges after the watershed election in 2013, which ceded 22 seats to the opposition CNRP. To maintain its power base is an uphill struggle for the ruling CPP, given its reform path was quite rocky and the speed of reform has been slow.
The development gap between the rich and the poor, between the urban and rural areas, keeps widening. The poor feel left behind. Such developments result in the increasing popularity and power base of the opposition CNRP in rural areas, the political stronghold of the CPP.
The CPP has carried out reforms at both national and sub-national levels. A Cabinet reshuffle is underway in order to put more pressure on government ministers to deepen reforms and deliver results. In early March, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that several ministers would be removed for their shortcomings in leadership and result-based reforms.
Mr. Hun Sen has urged his cabinet to respond to the complaints and comments made by the public on his Facebook page. In response, some ministries have set up a small team to follow up on comments on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page and take action accordingly.
However, such an online feedback system is not inclusive, given the majority of the poor do not have access to the Internet. To be more inclusive and representative, this feedback system needs to be made conveniently available to local communities.
The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Environment have gained public recognition compared with other ministries, given their remarkable achievements in reforms over the last two years. Other government ministries have relatively low public trust and confidence.
It is therefore necessary to thoroughly and systematically reform the low performing government ministries and agencies. Mr. Hun Sen hinted that he planned to systematically and comprehensively rate and rank public institutions and agencies in order to encourage them to compete and achieve a better performance.
If the reforms are successfully implemented, the CPP will have a high chance of winning the upcoming elections – the commune election in 2017 and the general election in 2018.  But if the reforms fail, the future of the CPP is highly uncertain.
Recognizing the important role of youth in shaping the political landscape in the Kingdom, the CPP has taken a proactive approach to reach out to the youth in different ways and by different means.
The Union of Youth Federation of Cambodia, led by Hun Many, the youngest son of Mr. Hun Sen and also a Member of Parliament from the CPP, has mobilized and energized significant networks of youth leaders. However, young people are very emotional and their political views and position are not constant.
Labor disputes and farmers’ discontent are the two main development issues that require holistic resolution. Although the number of labor strikes and protests has been reduced, their root causes have not been comprehensively addressed.
The issues related to the minimum wage, labor standards and labor productivity remain at the core of the trilateral dialogue among the trade unions, employers and government agencies.
Agriculture is the main sector of the economy. More than 75 percent of the Cambodian people live in rural areas. While the urban economy has risen in the past decades, rural development has been left far behind.
Although Cambodia has enjoyed more than 7 percent GDP growth in the past three decades, the livelihood and standard of living of farmers in rural areas has not improved a great deal. Drastic internal and cross-border migration clearly reflects the lack of opportunities in rural areas and the development gap.
On external relations and diplomacy, the CPP has racked up a significant score. The CPP has started to diversify and intensify its relations with countries from Asia to Europe, North America and Oceania. The visit of CPP leaders to Laos last weekend and Vietnam later this month signifies a new momentum in the CPP’s foreign policy.
But, in such an uncertain and fast changing world, Cambodia needs to redefine its national interests, adapt itself to a new environment and strengthen institutional capacity and leadership in diplomacy and foreign affairs.
What Cambodia needs to do next is to effectively link foreign policy with inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development and identity building.

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