Cambodian ruling party faces test over next 5 years

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-12-4 18:23:04

Cambodian political analysts said Prime Minister Hun Sen needs to make "serious and deep reforms" over the next five years to restore his popularity after his party survived with a slim majority in July's disputed general election.

Four months after the election, Cambodia is still trapped in political unrest as the opposition has continued boycotting parliament in protest against the election results.

Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 68 out of the 123 parliamentary seats in July's election--dropped 22 seats from 90 seats it won in the 2008 election. It was the CPP's worst performance since the 1998 election.

By contrast, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) of longtime opposition leader Sam Rainsy has seen a dramatic rise from 29 seats in the 2008 poll to 55 seats in the present election.

Sok Touch, deputy director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia's International Relations Institute, attributed the falling popularity of Hun Sen and his party to cronyism, rampant corruption, forced evictions, illegal immigration and lack of an independent judicial system.

"A remarkable point is the divide of youths, for instance, the Samdech Techo (Hun Sen) Youth and the Union of Youth Federation ( headed by Hun Many, son of Prime Minister Hun Sen), so other youths, who have not involved in these groups, have collaborated each other against them," he told Xinhua.

The majority of young people have supported Sam Rainsy and voted for the CRNP in Cambodia, where 30 percent of the country's population of 14.68 million is aged between 15 and 24.

Li Cai, a young Cambodian scholar, noted that the CPP was very powerful in the last term, so it is necessary for the CRNP to act as a counterbalance in the new term, otherwise the CPP will have a free hand to do whatever they want.

Another important reason that the CPP had lost many supporters during the past five years is that although the country has seen a sustainable annual economic growth of around 7 percent, many poor people have not been benefited by this growth.

"The annual growth is high, but the beneficiaries of the growth are those who have high resources, not include the poor people," Sok Touch said.

"Millions of people are still living under poverty line with an income of less than 1 US dollar a day," he added.

During the first cabinet meeting in September, Hun Sen pledged efforts to carry out deep-going reforms of legal and judicial systems, fight corruption and achieve good governance. He also promised pay rise for civil servants and armed forces, and better land and forest management.

Chheang Vannarith, lecturer of Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Leeds in Britain, said Hun Sen is facing serious challenges in delivering his promises, terming serious institutional reform as a matter of live and death for the ruling party.

"Structural power constraints, factionalism, and nepotism have been limiting Hun Sen's effective reform efforts," he told Xinhua.

"Judicial reform is the most urgent, and the court has to be independent," he said, adding that the parliament needs to challenge and closely follow up policy implementation by the executives.

Moreover, he said, the Anti-Corruption Unit needs to operate independently so that it can effectively address the chronic and widespread corruption in the country.

"Public trust and confidence in Hun Sen will be restored if his deep reforms deliver positive results," Vannarith said.

However, Sok Touch seemed skeptical about Hun Sen's political will to carry out the reforms he had promised.

"In my opinion, no progress can be made in those reforms because the new cabinet is filled with the same people, with few ministers removed. How can he reform?" he asked.

In Hun Sen's new cabinet approved by the parliament in September, many members of the previous cabinet retained their posts, except the ministers of finance, education, agriculture, environment, industry, and telecommunications.

Independent political analyst Kem Ley shared Sok Touch's views, and said Hun Sen's deep reforms were unlikely to succeed because of widespread nepotism that left the cabinet lineup remained practically unchanged.

"I do not believe that Hun Sen's deep reforms will be effective because there is not any change in leadership of the country's 28 ministries," he told Xinhua. "If Hun Sen and his ruling party really desire to conduct deep reforms, they should give chance to capable new people to lead at least a half of those ministries."

However, Ros Chantrabot, advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said it was too early to say if the government's deep reforms would be implemented effectively and believed that the reforms would restore the popularity of Hun Sen and the ruling party towards the next election in 2018.

"Now, the new government has just functioned for a few months so that it is too early to say if it gives positive or negative results in the reforms. We have to wait at least two or three years to see the results," he told Xinhua.

"Reforms need long time, five years are probably not enough, but we will try to achieve at least between 60-70 percent of the reform targets," he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the government is committed to fighting against corruption, enhancing social justice and good governance, and reducing poverty to improve the living conditions of the Cambodian people.

"The government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, has a clear roadmap towards reforming these issues. I believe that fruitful results from the reforms will gradually deliver in the coming years," he said.

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