Hun Sen’s Victory, Cambodia’s Mess

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Hun Sen’s Victory, Cambodia’s Mess

Hun Sen won at the recent polls, but Cambodia’s opposition could turn the tables at the 2018 elections.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been confirmed as the nation’s leader following the release of the official results for the July 28 polls. His Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 68 seats in the 123-seat national Assembly, a substantial drop in their parliamentary majority.

The results were an anathema for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which held protests on Saturday in an attempt to drum up support and maintain their rage over widespread allegations of electoral fraud.

However, the well-organized and peaceful march from Freedom Park failed to attract big numbers. The turnout was put at between 15,000 and 35,000 people, a small portion of a potential nine million voters and their families.

Even by the CNRP’s own reckoning it won 63 seats. If true, this would have handed their leader Sam Rainsy a barely workable majority. Rainsy has now contested four elections and despite his promises and absolute convictions that victory was at hand he has each time failed to deliver.

His position must be under a cloud. Sen’s prospects are not that bright either. A belligerent leader, he and senior members of the CPP have not attempted to win over an increasingly ambivalent electorate, angered by government corruption and an enormous wealth disparity.

The politically connected are regularly sneered at by their countrymen for their gaudy displays of wealth yet the government and relevant ministries have been unable to stump-up an affordable sum of cash to pay for their obligations in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

The current trial is nearing an end, with local staff members striking over the government’s inability to pay them while, Sen seems intent on ingratiating himself and the CPP with China, his country’s largest financial benefactor and another cause for concern among ordinary Cambodians.

The opposition fared well at this election, thanks largely to the efforts of veteran leaders Mu Sochua and Kem Sokha who with Rainsy have captured the ever growing youth vote. Given current CPP attitudes and wider voter trends, the opposition will be primed to win at the next poll in 2018.

In the meantime, CNRP insiders are urging the party to become more involved with the bureaucracy. Their substantial gains will enable them to claim positions on relevant boards like the National Election Commission (NEC), which Rainsy claims was responsible for many of the electoral irregularities.

The CNRP is now in a position to have an influence on appointments across the bureaucracy and in the process leap into undertaking a steep learning curve about the realities of running a government, an experience that would serve them well if they succeed in ending the CPP’s dominance in five years’ time.

Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.