Sunday,2007-1-14: Parties, Programs, and Persons
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 490
The past week brought a number of references to political parties which trigger considerations:
- What is the role of parties in Cambodian society? What is the perception – we discussed this term a week ago – of the role of parties?
- How does this perception relate to the perception of the role of the government?
- And finally – is there any role for party programs in the perception of the voting public, or are programs just a not-so-important annex to the person who is the leader of a party?
Related questions showed up in the different reactions to a day of remembrance: 7 January. It is somewhat surprising that there is often a reference to “7 January” without mentioning the year, which is, of course, 7 January 1979. “7 January” is not something abstract, it refers a specific date 28 years ago. That date represent the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. Anyone less than 28 years old did not live under the circumstances before 7 January 1979.
Does this affect the understanding of the meaning of this day of “7 January”?
The Student Movement for Democracy, “together with some political parties and civil society organizations,” are quoted as opposing celebration of the day, seeing it as a day which “caused many problems to our society, with the loss of natural resources, cultural property” and with the introduction of a foreign military presence – the Vietnamese who had militarily defeated the Khmer Rouge.
On the other hand, one of the foremost leaders of the older leadership has a specific memory of this day as the start of “saving the nation, bringing back freedom to the people, being the core force of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements allowing Cambodia to start the process of peacemaking for the whole nation through a win-win policy, protecting the national achievements, providing stability for the throne council, maintaining stability, security, and public order, restoring the economic and social infrastructure, conducting statewide reforms to guarantee economic growth, strengthen the rule of law and democracy, and establish the prestige of the Kingdom of Cambodia in the international community so that Cambodia is equal to the countries in the world.”
Apart from these different evaluations, some political parties criticize the celebrations as “just a political party day” – of a particular party. Maybe it is a problem that the major memorial celebration was held “in the compound of the CPP headquarters” – re-enforcing the impression that the celebration is a party affair, and not something which concerns the whole society.
But news during the present week anyway challenges the idea that political parties have a major role in shaping the development of society. In many other countries, the image of political parties is, first of all, determined by what the voting public perceives as their program. In Cambodia, however, it seems the major element determining the perception of a party, and its impact on society, is the question of who holds leadership of that party.
This has been clear since the Sam Rainsy Party was named after its founder and leader. Not many people know about the party platform and program of the small Khmer Front Party before its former president, Suth Dina, announced that he and other party members were happy to hand over the party to Prince Ranariddh, and to re-name it as the Norodom
Ranariddh Party. Was the platform of the party changed? Do all those who changed allegiance from Funcinpec to the Norodom Ranariddh Party know and accept the track record and policies of the Khmer Front Party?
The following twelve parties (in alphabetical order) are registered to participate in the upcoming Commune Elections:
- Cambodian People’s Party
- Chamroeun Niyum Khmer Party
- Democratic Society Party
- Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party
- Khmer Democratic Party
- Khmer National Party
- League for Democracy Party
- Norodom Ranariddh Party
- Sam Rainsy Party
- Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party
- Sangkum Khmer Niyum Party
Many are known more for their leaders than for the policies they propose. If the experience of past elections is repeated, only a few parties will gain more than 1 % of the vote. Formerly, there were rumors that the leader of an NGO, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, might change the basis on which he is trying to make improvements in society, by creating one more political party. Now there are predictions that he will join the group of leaders of newly created parties, some of whose stated goals seem very similar. However, cooperation between them does not seem to be their current strategy.