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Cambodian opposition can only get stronger
Publication Date : 10-09-2013
Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy is crying over spilt milk when he calls for a series of protests against official ratification of the July 28 election results unless the authorities in Phnom Penh prove that no irregularities took place in the polling.
The opposition aims to use the protests from September 15-17 to change the game, forcing the National Election Commission to re-examine the results. Sam Rainsy believes his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives after a close race, a much-improved performance by his party compared to previous elections.
The Election Commission on Sunday officially ratified the results, giving Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) 68 seats and the CNRP 55 seats. A legal challenge from Sam Rainsy to scrutinise the election has already been rejected, shutting down one option for the opposition to carry on the struggle to overturn the results.
Hun Sen, who has been in power for more than 28 years, will convene the first session of the new parliament and eventually form his new cabinet without the participation of the opposition. With 68 seats, the CPP has enough support to form a government.
It will be difficult for the CNRP to get the election results changed. Street protests will not improve its chances of success. The margin of 13 seats between winner and loser is not close enough to grant an immediate recount. Some observers are saying the CPP victory was fraudulent, but as long as there remains no clear evidence of irregularities, Hun Sen remains the legitimate leader of the country.
Street protests might be a legitimate way to oppose the government, but such action could affect political stability. The country is peaceful at present, but there is always the possibility of such action ending in chaos and violence. Hun Sen has a record of using force to crack down on opposing voices. Of course he would be wrong to do so - and it could spell the end of his political career. Equally, such an outcome should not be permitted to weaken Cambodia's parliamentary system either.
Looking at the situation optimistically, with 55 seats in parliament, the opposition is the strongest it has ever been. As a result, Hun Sen, the ruling strongman for nearly three decades, has been considerably weakened already.
By accepting the election results, Sam Rainsy and the CNRP can now begin to rock Hun Sen's boat even harder. They can now more confidently scrutinise and vote against government policies. The opposition has enough votes to request extraordinary sessions of parliament, to call for closed sessions, to ask high-ranking officials to clarify key issues and to request deliberation of motions to censure or dismiss any members of the cabinet. With this newly gained power, the opposition now possesses far stronger check-and-balance power against Hun Sen's executive branch.
If Sam Rainsy does not really want executive power, as he has said, then working as a forceful and effective opposition leader is not a bad choice in his career at this stage. As the opposition gathers strength, he might later change his mind about taking the helm.