The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has been quietly reforming since its main political opponent, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, made major gains in 2013.
With the country looking toward national elections again in 2018, the CPP has been undertaking internal changes to help it connect with voters.
Following an annual CPP congress over the weekend, party members said they are also looking for ways to tackle tough issues, such as land concessions and deforestation, as well as other tangible reforms, such as an improved traffic law. And they say they are doing this in a more competitive political climate.
Political observers say the reforms within the CPP, even if they aren’t major, are a benefit to ordinary people.
Kung Phoak, head of the Cambodia Institute for Strategic Studies, told VOA Khmer on Wednesday that CPP reform is coming from “new officials and new ideas.”
“Every reform process provides benefit to the people,” he said. “It will also benefit the ruling party.” However, he said, deep reforms, such as land issues, may take some time and show few results immediately.
Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said the reform strategy was not surprising; nor does it feel like true reform. “It means the CPP is afraid, which is unlike previous terms,” he said. “What we want to see are systemic reforms, the removal of officials, especially at the Council of Ministers, and the setting of clear policy.”
Many issues remain, he added.
“Now we can see the failure of the judicial system, the failure on land issues and management of economic land concessions, and the failure to curb deforestation,” he said. “These are headache issues.”
According to a CPP strategy document leaked from last weekend’s congress, the CPP hopes to boost political support in the 2017 local elections with the youth. That means more young candidates, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said. He denied the CPP is fearful of coming elections.
“It’s just to encourage more young candidates in the electoral lists of commune elections, based on the actual situation, and to have more female candidates,” he said “It’s because our officials are getting older, and we need successors.”
Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which made major gains in 2013, applauded changes within the CPP, saying it would help Cambodians. “We will do our tasks and they will do their tasks,” he said. “They can arrange any candidates they want; it’s just a political party’s strategy. But for us, we have our strategic plan for the election, to get more people’s support. Especially from day to day, we are working hard to get more human resources, from those who have strong reputations, support, and ability to lead the commune and serve the people, as well as the nation.”