Friday, 1 August 2014

Hun Sen’s Chicken Way Out

«ជោគជ័យ​ហើយ​ ទៅ​នាំគ្នា​ទះ​ដៃ​បាន​ហើយ ។​»
CPP Prime Minister Hun Sen, 22 July 2014, VOA

“For the election law, we need to take time, it’s not just a couple of days. With the political resolution from the 22nd, we still need to discuss some major problems like the NEC and the new voter list and the autonomous budget of the NEC.”

Sak Setha, CPP delegate in the electoral reform joint working group, 30 July 2014, The Cambodia Daily

“In fact, the swearing-in ceremony can be done at any time, even today, and then we can keep talking about the election reforms and amendments to the law and Constitution at the same time.”

Cheam Yeap, CPP delegate in the electoral reform joint working group, 30 July 2014, The Cambodia Daily

“The two parties didn’t reject my conditions, which means they accept my conditions . . . Maybe I need to make another statement to remind [them of] my conditions again.”

Consensus National Election Committee candidate Pung Chhiv Kek, 31 July 2014, The Phnom Penh Post

“This is the signal of a problem. After [being] a member of parliament for 34 years . . . I would like to say that the constitution stipulates only members of the senate and members of parliament have parliamentary immunity.”

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, 31 July 2014, The Phnom Penh Post

Hun Sen is jubilent in many photos taken after the 22 July agreement. He must plan to laugh all the way to the bank after seemingly securing legitimacy for his regime as long as he wishes. He is right the worst the 22 July agreement could do to him is to let him retain whatever that has kept him in power until now.

But then the CNRP, and a grim Kem Sokha at the time, may wipe the smile off Hun Sen’s face by forcing him to swallow a dose of lemon juice. There are conditions before the CNRP rushing into parliament: among others, the ninth member of a new National Election Committee must be selected with consensus between the two parties.

Now the consensus candidate, Pung Chhiv Kek, imposes her own conditions before accepting the role: the new committee needs immunity; it must be allowed to be independent and autonomous in administration: funding, staff recruitment, and control. This would be a small step of a soft-spoken Pung Chhiv Kek, and a giant step for the Cambodian electoral system.

Would Hun Sen agree to these conditions before the CNRP takes up their seats in the parliament?

Hun Sen seems facing a tough choice: being a premier of a half-empty parliament for as long as he likes, or being a premier endorsed by a full parliament but with so much uncertainly after the next election.

His dream of a legitimate parliament may just become a nightmare for him a few years down the road. If he agreed to the reform conditions, it would be likely that he would lose control over the next election outcomes. However, he may not be too worried about this prospect. The loss in 1993 elections over which he had little control did not stop him from flexing his muscles to force himself into a coalition government. But again, he may not fancy a revisit of the 1993 scenario. Or, he may not be allowed to pull the stunt again.

Hence, the other option with the half parliament looks increasingly attactive. The excuse is perfect – there are no timelines in the 22 July agreement for negotiating and implementing reform details, which means anything can be dragged on to keep the status quo and political deadlock in force.

There are a few indications that Hun Sen may not be so keen with this giant step of electoral reforms. First, he has yet to clearly accept the demands of the ninth member, eventhough he formally approves her appointment before the conditions. Second, CPP delegates in joint working groups begin to speak of research necessity, time consuming, etc… all of which are usually used to justify any delay or a prelude to another crisis. It is well known that the CPP can move in a flash to get anything, no matter how complex, done when it suits them. Otherwise, it would be easier to move the mountain to Mohammed.

Tough choice, but Hun Sen will find a chicken way out.

Ung Bun Ang

(Pseng-Pseng is published on the first, tenth, and twentieth day of every month. Previous issues are archived at

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