CNRP leaders need a reality check

[Published by the Cambodia Herald on June 24, 2014.]

Writing in the June 17 Cambodia Daily, CNRP politician Mu Sochua took issue with a June 11 Reuters article by Prak Chan Thul.

The earlier article basically said that the CNRP’s campaign to overturn last July’s National Assembly elections seems to have run out of steam. Not so, replies Sochua: just look at how things are changing – workers are seeking higher wages, there are “grass-roots and youth movements for change”, people are using social media, monks are building networks “to preserve our Buddhist values”.

Mu Sochua, like some other CNRP leaders, seems to have fallen into the trap of starting to believe their own propaganda.

In last year’s election, the CNRP used the vaguest slogan it could think of – “Change” – in order to win votes from people who would have differed from each other about slogans that advocated anything more precisely. Now the leaders seem to have convinced themselves that, if anything in Cambodia changes, the CNRP is either the cause of the change or the beneficiary of it, or both.

The CNRP leaders badly need a reality check. Things change all the time, regardless of the efforts or intentions of the CNRP. Even if there were no organised political opposition at all, workers who are being paid less than they need would be trying to get higher wages. People, especially young ones, have enthusiastically taken to social media all over the world, so it’s unlikely that Cambodians needed the encouragement of the CNRP in order to join Facebook or Twitter. Cambodian monks have been trying to preserve Buddhist values for many centuries, and will undoubtedly go on doing so whatever the outcome of future elections, so that “change” isn’t a change at all.

I don’t know what Mu Sochua was referring to with her phrase about “grass-roots and youth movements for change”. I hope she wasn’t referring to the CNRP supporters in last year’s demonstrations for whom “change” meant looting shops which they thought were owned by “yuon”.

Sadly, self-deception has always been an important characteristic of the politics of Sam Rainsy and his close associates. The claim that the opposition “really” won the 2013 election was not invented last July; it was recycled from many previous elections.

What was different about 2013 was two things. One was that the opposition, being united for the first time, came closer to winning than ever before.

The second difference was that the opposition leaders made a specific claim: that the CNRP had really won 63 seats, eight more than the 55 they won according to the official result. Unlike the claims after earlier elections, which were always only that some aspect or another wasn’t fair, the claim of an additional eight seats was something that could easily be checked. All that was necessary was for the CNRP leaders to be a little more precise: “In Province A, the NEC records us receiving x votes and the CPP receiving y, but these figures are wrong; the real totals were x + a and y – b.” It would then be possible to go back to the actual documents – either recounting the ballots or checking the combining of totals at the commune or provincial level – to see who was right: the NEC or the CNRP.

But the CNRP leaders have never provided any precise figures to back their claim. The reason is not hard to find. It is that their claim is untrue, and this would become obvious as soon as they made it precise. At every stage of the vote tally, from counting at polling stations to compiling provincial totals, CNRP representatives were present and signed the appropriate documents certifying that the figures were accurate.

But the CNRP leaders have to go on pretending. To admit that they didn’t “really” win the election would be to admit that they have been demonstrating in an effort to overturn the clear choice of a majority of Cambodian voters.

Mu Sochua actually writes, “The people have spoken. And we should honor them.” Indeed, everyone should. Many of the people voted for the CNRP. A larger number voted for the CPP. If the CNRP leaders were finally to acknowledge this, their claims to stand for democracy would have a better chance of being taken seriously.

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