Cambodia’s Political Detente

The Khmer Times, 12 December 2016

After more than one year of political tension and strained relationships, the two main political parties, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), have recently reached a political détente.
The opportunity for both parties to build a solid political bridge is now open. This window of opportunity may close anytime unless there is genuine political will and a concrete plan to move the dialogue forward in good faith.
The “culture of dialogue” between the two parties has resumed, although it remains murky and its future is not clear.
It is a new beginning perhaps for both parties to build trust and confidence, which are the foundations of political reconciliation and national unity.
Cambodian politics has been trapped in what some call “the disease of main actors,” and the loop of political violence and a zero-sum game. To get rid of this loop, Cambodia needs to have a resilient political system that can sustain political order.
The ruling party has used a “sticks and carrots” strategy and sometimes “divide and weaken” approach against its opponent. And the opposition party normally exerts both domestic and international pressure to challenge the establishment.
In a democratic society, different ideas and approaches are common. But those differences should not be allowed to breed political violence.
What are the main factors leading to such a political compromise?
National unity is the core of national strength. Unless national reconciliation and unity are realized, a nation is not able to maintain peace and stability, develop and prosper.
Both main political parties seem to have genuine political will in resuming political dialogue, promoting national reconciliation and enhancing Cambodia’s role on the international stage. However, there is no clear mechanism or institution, at least at this point, to ensure the continuity of such dialogue.
Due to decades of political decay and instability, Cambodia has lagged behind its neighboring countries in terms of socio-economic development and international prestige. The opportunities lost are many if Cambodian society becomes more politically polarized.
Cambodians from all walks of life are tired of going through prolonged political tensions and conflicts. Cambodian youth aged from 15 to 30, which accounts for more than 30 percent of the population, are future-oriented and outward looking.
They wish to see a strong and responsible political leadership that can move the country forward with a clear vision and a capacity to generate opportunities.
The international support and constructive intervention also count in enabling political dialogue between the two parties. The international community wishes to see political reconciliation in the Kingdom.
What are the repercussions? Such a political atmosphere will create a conductive environment for the commune elections in 2017 and general elections 2018.
After months of self-detainment at his opposition party’s headquarters, Kem Sokha has emerged to be a tough leader equipped with a reconciliatory posture.
His popularity and political powerbase have increased largely thanks to his firm position, perseverance and patience.
Mr. Sokha is now the core counterpart of Prime Minister Hun Sen in a renewed “culture of dialogue” between the two parties.
The friction between Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha may erupt unless a clear and stable power structure and decision-making mechanisms are developed. The leadership structure of the opposition CNRP is quite vulnerable to internal power struggles and external interventions.
The remaining question is whether opposition leader Sam Rainsy will be allowed to return to Cambodia to lead his party in the upcoming elections.
It seems at this moment that the likelihood of a royal pardon for him is really slim. He may not be given another opportunity like the one he received before the election in 2013.
Will the presence of Mr. Rainsy matter in the upcoming elections? Will the CNRP lose votes against the backdrop of the absence of its president?
Will the elections be fair and inclusive? These will be the subjects of another round of political games.
Although there are many remaining questions and different speculation, the big picture is that the political dialogue is expected to develop a resilient political institution that can weather future political storms or turbulence.
The wishful thinking is that the dialogue will generate a common vision and a concrete roadmap to transform Cambodia into a role model of sustainable development and liberal democracy in the Mekong region.

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