With the decline of royal family members in politics and with electoral regulations and state institutions favoring the ruling party, election observers and analysts said they fear Cambodia’s political system is losing its multi-party structure.
The retirement from politics of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, a longtime rival of the Cambodian People’s Party, has combined with an apparent loss of faith by many political figures who have decided to join the ruling party, said Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc.
“Pressures” such as offers of positions and money in the government in exchange for political loyalty could result in an apathetic electorate, he said, and add National Assembly seats to the CPP, which already has 90 of 123.
“It could motivate non-analytic voters to vote for the CPP, up to 110 seats,” he said. “Thus, Cambodiawould move to a single party.”
He cited the recent USelection of Barack Obama, a Democrat, to replace George W. Bush, a Republican, as a healthy balance of political parties.
“Voters in the USalternatively vote between Republicans and Democrats, because they understand the politics leading their country,” he said.
The opposition, now both the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties, have not pulled votes away from the CPP, he said. The Sam Rainsy Party took 26 seats in July’s election, up two seats from 2003, but those votes came from Funcinpec’s base, Thun Saray said.
The Sam Rainsy Party’s growth has been stunted from years of infighting and defeat, he said.
“I worry that [SRP members] are tired with too-long opponents facing tighter pressure,” he said. “Their forces are too small and cannot gather more.”
The size was limited by financing and a loss of base support, he said.
“In the past, they could expand by grabbing supporters of Funcinpec,” he said. “They could not break the government or ruling party [supporters] to come as their supporters.”
Change will be possible when the electorate becomes upset with the ruling party, through perceived unfairness or increased poverty, he said, advising the two opposition parties to work together to enforce commune councilors, the backbone of their political strength.
However, Koul Panha, executive director for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said a chance for change remains, with the CPP winning only 58 percent of the total votes. Division among opposition parties remains an obstacle, he said.
“The votes show that voting against the [ruling] government hasn’t fallen a lot,” he said.
HRP President Kem Sokha said Cambodiawas polarizing.
“It is going in that direction, but it won’t come soon,” he said. “In two or three elections, there will be only two rival parties.”
He suggested all parties opposed to the ruling CPP “form a coalition, leaving party identity for awhile.”
“One day, the coalition will automatically become a party,” he said. “We, the Human Rights Party, would unite with democrats such as the Sam Rainsy Party.”
Such a coalition would level the political field and eventually lead to an inevitable rise of the opposition, he said.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that, in his view, voters for opposition parties are united, but it was up to the leaders of the parties to strengthen their cooperation. More obstacles remain, he said, including state services and the courts that lean toward the CPP.
“As long as the courts, election bodies, ministries and departments serve only the ruling party, I worry Cambodiais heading for dictatorship,” he said.
National Assembly President Heng Samrin, of the CPP, has accused the opposition of taking itself out of the governing process by boycotting key ceremonies and sessions.
Nguon Nhil, deputy vice president of the National Assembly, also CPP, said Thursday the people were enjoying freedom of speech, and it was not possible for a single party to swallow the multi-party system.