The Cambodia National Rescue Party: What’s Next?
Image Credit: REUTERS/Samrang Pring

The Cambodia National Rescue Party: What’s Next?


Prior to the 2013 election, Cambodia’s opposition parties were often characterized as divided, weak and poor. For the ruling party, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), they were simply a subject of ridicule. In the aftermath of the CPP’s landslide victory in the 2008 election, opposition supporters had cause to wonder whether it was the beginning of the end for the opposition in Cambodia, let alone expect them to achieve a surge in popular support.

Thus, the stunning performance by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in the July 28 election came as a huge shock to most people. For the first time, the opposition had emerged as a real alternative to the dominant party. After capturing 55 out of 123 seats, the CNRP insisted that in fact they had won the election given the massive irregularities that had been involved. Talks have been on and off between the CPP and the CNRP in an attempt to end the political impasse, but to date there has been no progress. Each party has blamed the other for failing to make the necessary compromise.

The opposition has demanded an independent investigation into election irregularities, while the ruling elites have insisted that the National Election Committee (NEC) is the only legitimate institution to resolve electoral disputes. With no resolution in sight, the CNRP has issued an ultimatum: reach a deal by late December, or it will hold larger and longer demonstrations nationwide until the CPP caves. The opposition has also been using mass protests as leverage to force the ruling elites to relinquish more power, although this has yet to be successful. The most pressing question for the CNRP’s leaders probably relates to the nature of their strategies to end the current deadlock and to win the next election.

After many rounds of painful talks, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) finally merged with the Human Rights Party (HRP) to establish the CNRP in July 2012. The merger excited many opposition supporters, and ended years of bickering and infighting among Cambodia’s opposition groups. Although the merger significantly boosted popular support for the opposition, it would be an overstatement to suggest that it was the only factor responsible for the CNRP’s substantial gains in the July 28 election. Over the past few years, Cambodia’s political landscape has undergone rapid transformation, and its implications are both deep and dramatic.

The opposition has benefited greatly from demographic changes. In 2012 it is estimated that around 70 per cent of Cambodians were under the age of 35. Many of these young voters didn’t just vote for the CNRP; they were also fiercely mobilizing public support for the opposition. Yet among these younger cohorts, some are hardliners who have been insisting that the opposition accept nothing less than a victory or the removal of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his close associates.

In an added complication, the CNRP depends heavily on this group to mobilize people to join their mass demonstrations nationwide. It is no coincidence that opposition leaders often consult their strongest supporters at Freedom Park before negotiating a deal to end the current political impasse, because these younger voters have been risking all to help them challenge the CPP’s domination. Further, they are very vocal about government affairs, both in public and on social media such as Facebook and YouTube. During the election campaigns, given CNRP’s severe resource constraints, many of them financially supported themselves, with little help from their leaders.

Although these hardliners play an extremely important role in the CNRP’s current election gains, opposition leaders must strike a delicate balance here. They need to know that many of their supporters are moderate or at least less extreme than their counterparts. Of course, they also want to see the CNRP being elected to power, so that some of its policies can be implemented for the benefit of Cambodia’s ordinary people, especially the poor. Yet they also want the process of change to happen without endangering peace and stability in the country and without seriously affecting everyday Cambodian life.

It is also reasonable to say that the moderate opposition supporters might tolerate the ongoing political deadlock given the difficult situations that the CNRP leaders are facing, and that it will take time before a good deal can be reached by both political parties. But the opposition leaders cannot take their supporters’ patience for granted. If the current situation drags on for too long without any solution in sight and if subsequently begins to hurt the economy, voters will blame not only the CPP but also the opposition for putting ego before the national interest. Thus, the CNRP’s leaders need to be very realistic about what they can do to end the current political impasse, rather than simply responding to the demands of the hardliners.

Another problem facing the CNRP’s leaders is whether they have the capacity and resources to lead the new government if elected. The current election gains don’t necessarily mean that voters fully trust the CNRP’s leaders to run the country. In fact, voters are right to be concerned given the opposition’s past track record. Prior to the merger, the SRP and the HRP were locked in a war of words, accusing each other of selling out to the ruling elites or having hidden agendas. They dug up any damaging stories they could find to destroy the legitimacy and credibility of their rivals.

December 29, 2013 at 21:44

The article omits the elephant in the room – the vicious anti-Vietnamese racism that pollutes the CNRP agenda. Recently a prominent neutral human rights leader wrote a letter asking them to reign in the racist language and it drew out a huge firestorm on Facebook, showing that many of these young educated CNRP supporters have extreme and dangerous racist beliefs. No analysis of the CNRP and the political crisis is credible without considering this dark side of their campaign.

Alan De Wal
January 9, 2014 at 19:19

You know nothing about Cambodian history and/or what Racism is!!! The Vietnamese are illegal immigrants who followed the VN armies into Cambodia with the Vietnamese Army in the late 70′s and took land, homes, businesses, property and possessions illegally and unlawfully of the dead Kymer people killed by Pol Pot.

The VN people also came across the border in their thousands last election to vote for the CPP party (Branch stacking).

The Vietnamese Government also steals land and the massive 100 Million dollars a year revenue from the Angkor Wat tourist venture. Hun Sen is complicit in selling off the country to Vietnam. Hun Sen is a nothing but a proxy for VN and speaks fluent Vietnamese.

Have you ever been to Cambodia??? I dont think so!! The VN people will be forcibly repatriated back to VN once the CNRP takes power. I can already see them on their trailers being pulled those single cylinder tractors heading east. The Kymer people will take back their land sold for a pittance to VN and Chinese firms.

Racism?? They are the same race! SE Asians……..
The wrongs need to be righted and the VN people (Parasites who came in illegally and conducted unlawful activities) need to leave the country very soon under their own accord or by deadly force.

January 23, 2014 at 03:24

This is what exactky what pol pot did with the vietnamese ethnic in cambodia, obviously they didn t stop there at maching and killing vietnamese ethnic. go ahead cnrp repeat the history! for sure one thing vietnam will never abandone its ethnic in cambodia. Obviously so called educated young cambodian were not educated enough to know the history

January 25, 2014 at 21:47

This is what exactly what pol pot did with the vietnamese ethnic in cambodia, obviously they didn t stop there at maching and killing vietnamese ethnic. go ahead cnrp repeat the history! for sure one thing vietnam will never abandone its ethnic in cambodia. Obviously so called educated young cambodian were not educated enough to know the history

January 27, 2014 at 07:43

@Alan De Wal

Southeast Asian is not a race. It’s only a geographical identity or … a location. Got it?

Deadly force? Illegal immigrants or not, The world will be watching you. Do you really think hateful Cambodians like yourself can get away with killing Vietnamese people to satisfy your hatred? Today, those involved with ethnic cleansing will be brought to justice to answer for their crimes against humanity. If the world doesn’t punish them, the Vietnamese Army will. I dare Rainsy to go out and kill Vietnamese people.

December 14, 2013 at 18:35

CRNP need to show the people what they are capable of doing. Not just by marching and war of words against their opponents. They need to demonstrate good stable leadership that can bring changes and resolutions to the common people. The article stipulated that besides for publicity; they can’t even support the people who were arrested for supporting them. This is not a good sign for an upcoming party. I also agree with the article for them to use the social media wisely; to open a dialogue of how they can benefit the country and its people. And followed by actions to resolve. Personally, I believe that Hun Sen will not leave without force; and the opposition party will need strong support from non-communistic countries to overrule his party. But one thing for sure; Cambodia need to be wise of whom they want in his place.

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