Insideasean, 13 February 2017 (http://insideasean.com/cover-story/No-real-winner-in-political-strife-4153/)
After prolonged political tension embedded with strategic twists and turns, Cambodia is on the verge of political turmoil. Unless political reconciliation is back on track, it will be an opportunity loss for Cambodia to catch up with other ASEAN member countries.
Trust deficit between the main political parties — the Cambodia’s People Party (CPP) and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) — is the core issue that needs to be swiftly fixed.
With the lack of effective conflict resolution mechanism, a cut-throat power competition or a zero-sum game between the two parties will put Cambodia into a crisis.
Amid a looming political threat of being dissolved after remarks by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month on amendments of the law on political parties, the CNRP is forced to make a critical choice to keep the party united and stay relevant for the upcoming election.
The exiled head of the CNRP, Mr Sam Rainsy, took a swift strategic move by announcing his resignation last Saturday, citing “personal reasons” with no direct link to the proposed law on political parties.
“I resign as CNRP leader for the sake of the party,” he wrote on Twitter.
He further said on his Facebook page that “in all circumstances I continue to cherish and to uphold the CNRP’s ideals in my heart.”
“Whatever my position in the party, I maintain the spirit of resistance to the autocratic and corrupt Hun Sen regime, and this is what matters in the minds of the Khmer people,” he added.
Acting CNRP President Kem Sokha applauded Mr Sam Rainsy’s position, stating that his resignation is “honorable” and in the best interest of the nation.
The CNRP’s steering committee meeting last Sunday accepted Mr Sam Rainsy’s resignation and endorsed Mr Kem Sokha as acting president until a new president is elected. With this development, the power struggle between Mr Sam Rainsy and Mr Kem Sokha will get more intense.
There is a rumour that Mr Sam Rainsy has proposed that his wife, Mrs. Tioulong Saumaura, be made the next president of the party.
Mr Hun Manit, the son of Prime Minister Hun Sean and chief of intelligence of the Ministry of National Defence, posted on his Facebook page: “Is Kem Sokha not good enough for the job? Is Saumaura better than Kem Sokha?”
The political power play has raised several questions: What is the main motive behind Mr Sam Rainsy’s resignation? What will be the next steps that he will take? What will be the future of the CRNP? How will the CPP react to this?
What could be the main reasons for his resignation?
Some political pundits have argued that Mr Rainsy’s resignation was aimed at protecting the CNRP from being dissolved by the proposed law on political party, orchestrated by the ruling CPP.
Others said that the resignation was a smart strategy to maintain the political powerbase and popularity of the CNRP, while Mr Rainsy remains as the heart and soul of the opposition and resistance force.
There is no official reaction from the ruling CPP, which has always been successful in weakening the leadership and organizational structure of the CNRP.
What will then be Mr Sam Rainsy’s next steps?
He will certainly remain politically active, but in different form. As a social activist, he may lead a social movement or people’s movement to realize his so-called “national rescue mission.” He might even galvanize international diplomatic pressure on the CPP-led government.
And what will the CNRP’s future be?
Mr Sam Rainsy’s resignation has surprised and shocked members and supporters of the party. Policy change and factional strife may occur in the absence of a strong leadership.
Internal rupture will lead to the weakening of the CNRP which, in turn, creates public distrust of the party. The CNRP needs to assure the public that the party’s leadership and unity are resilient and strong.
How will the CPP react?
At first glance, the resignation is good news for the CPP. The CPP will likely gain more confidence in securing victory in the upcoming elections.
For the time being, the CPP is cautiously optimistic and remains wary of Mr Sam Rainsy’s next moves. But one thing is certain: the CPP will continue to eliminate the sources of potential threats to the status quo.