A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

SRP’s Self-Destruction

Op-Ed by Khmerization
30th March, 2011

The turn of event in the Sam Rainsy Party’s (SRP) internal wrangling surrounding the dramatic resignation and spectacular expulsion of MP Mao Monivan has moved in phenomenal pace that even the most keen and over-zealous observers had trouble keeping up with the chain of event. His expulsion has sent shiver down the spines of other would-be vocal and outspoken critics of the party leadership. It has sent shockwave across the political spectrum in Cambodia. His only crime was to make open criticism of the party’s kingmakers: party’s spokesman Yim Sovan and the party strongman Eng Chhay Eang.

The SRP’s expulsion of Mr. Mao Monivan for publicly speaking out against the party’s kingmakers and against the politics of patronage, nepotism and cronyism goes against the principle of democracy, the spirit of openness and pluralism. It shows the SRP’s hypocrisy and its intolerance of divergent views. After attacking Hun Sen’s dictatorship and autocratic style of rule for the last 15 years, the SRP should look at itself in the mirror and ask: are we any different from Mr. Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party?

The SRP has preached and campaigned for democracy and free speech for the last 15 years, since its inception and foundation. To show its principles and democratic values and that it is a genuine democratic party, the SRP must practice what it had preached for the last 15 years. To expel someone from the party for their outspokenness against the party’s nepotism, cronyism and autocratic style of rule has shown the true colours of the SRP that it is dictatorial, intolerant and has never practiced what it had preached all along. Mao Monivan’s expulsion has also shown that the SRP is suppressing internal and self-criticism. Mao Monivan’s outspokenness and his criticism of the party’s nepotism, cronyism and autocratic style of rule is part of his democratic rights under the SRP’s statute which aimed at bringing and holding the party leadership to account for their actions and shortcomings. The SRP’s action in expelling Mao Monivan will undoubtedly be seen as dictatorial in nature and puts its credibility and status as a democratic party and champion of democracy on the line. The SRP’s ongoing squabbling and internal wrangling shows that the party is not working to advance democracy in Cambodia, not working for the interests of the Khmer nation or its people, but indulging in personal interests over national interests and the interests of democracy in Cambodia.

It is basic rights to be vocal in a democratic and open society, and Mao Monivan has used his basic rights to right the wrongs of the party leadership. If politicians, who are public figures, and to a certain extent, public property, can’t handle the truth and that basic rights, then they do not deserve to be politicians and public figures.

In a true democratic party, Mao Monivan’s action in speaking out against the two kingmakers, Yim Sovan and Eng Chhay Eang, do not warrant his sacking and expulsion. The first actions would be to try to address his concerns and the first measures against him are warnings followed by disciplinary actions if he continues with his outspokenness. A swift expulsion that has been seen taken against him can only be described as draconian in nature and dictatorial in style.

The Chain of Event

Mao Monivan’s dramatic resignation as an MP and his spectacular expulsion stemmed from a disagreement over his reshuffling as the SRP president of the populous Kampong Cham provincial branch to a smaller province of Kampot. But it is largely from the disagreement over the MP mid-term rotation and the replacement of current MPs with candidates next on the 2008 candidate list that trigger a war of attrition. This formula of MP mid-term rotation has been agreed and approved by the party’s Steering Committee before the 2008 election. According to Mao Monivan, he resigned as an MP on his own volition because he wanted to keep his promise and to honour the agreement as well as to set an example in order to make way for the MPs in waiting to be sworn in. According to him, other MPs had broken their promises and dishonoured the agreements and refused to vacate the seats for the MPs in waiting. This disagreement had led him to launch a scathing public attack on the two kingmakers, who in turn took a swift action by expelling him in dramatic fashion.

Reshuffling is democratic and a good idea provided that it is done fairly and democratically. According to leaked reports, it was not done democratically and fairly at all. Not all MPs will be replaced with new candidates, only some MPs will. Party spokesman Yim Sovan, his wife Ke Sovannaroth who is the party secretary general, Eng Chhay Eang and his brother-in-law Kuoy Bunroeun, do not have to vacate their seats for the new candidates. To add insults to injury, Mao Monivan was kicked out as president of the party's Kampong Cham branch to make way for Eng Chhay Eang’s brother-in-law, Kuoy Bunroeun, to take over. This is clear nepotism and cronyism.

However, MP rotation is a bad idea from the start. It is a recipe for internal division and internal power struggle. Mao Monivan’s expulsion from the SRP and his subsequent defection to the Human Rights Party (HRP) will not be the last. The MPs in waiting, who had petitioned the party and its president Sam Rainsy in 2010 to ask them to honour the agreement and who had been snubbed by the current MPs’ backflip, will surely rise up in revolt to show their discontent of the postponement of the MP rotation agreement. More internal wrangling and bickering are forthcoming and more defections to other parties, either to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) or the HRP, are highly anticipated.

Mao Monivan: A traitor or a man of principle?

There have been smear campaigns to demonise him as the SRP traitor and a spy for the ruling CPP during and after his expulsion from the SRP. In one of his so-called attacks on the SRP leadership, Mao Monivan had called for a stoppage and cessation of a culture of labelling, smearing and vilification of the party members who dare to speak out as being traitors and spies.

I personally have some suspicions and reservations about Mao Monivan’s democratic principles when he bitterly complained about the SRP’s dictatorial style of rule right after the 2008 election. I have anticipated that he is on the brink of defecting to the ruling CPP, but true to his principles he has maintained his loyalty to the SRP and vowed not to defect to any parties unless he is expelled from the SRP. And true to his words of not betraying his democratic principles, he did not defect to the ruling CPP where he would be given a plum job, but chose to defect to a poor HRP where he would only give but not get any personal interests whatsoever.

The Conduct of the HRP

The conduct of the HRP in effecting Mao Monivan’s defection and on the process of orchestrating other defections from the SRP have not and will not help the ongoing SRP-HRP merger and the unification talks. It will, to a lager or lesser extent, cause further mistrusts to the already mistrustful and too factionalised dealings during the unification talks. Under no circumstances should the HRP effect or orchestrate the defections from the SRP to the HRP or vice versa as both parties are working with the same goals to dislodge Mr. Hun Sen and his CPP from power. To orchestrate defections from each other is a political suicide because they are killing each other off before they do it to their nemesis, the CPP. If they are to have any chances of defeating the CPP in the elections at all, they must work as one and cannot afford to fight among themselves. The HRP’s conduct in effecting and orchestrating defections from the SRP will cause a chain reaction from the SRP who would seek to retaliate by effecting and orchestrating defections from the HRP. A tit for tat will follow and this will lead to a tuck of war between these two so-called democratic parties that can only lead to the complete destruction and annihilation of both. If this scenario is to have occurred and fathomed, and if the defection of Mao Moinvan is a premonition of that scenario, it will cause irreparable electoral damages in the eyes of the Cambodian voters and, to a certain extent, also in the eyes of their financial backers.

In conclusion, the resignation of Mao Monivan as an MP and his spectacular expulsion from the SRP is a premonition of the forthcoming self-destruction of the SRP. More internal discontent and wrangling are anticipated as the MPs in waiting will show their anger and dissatisfaction over the indefinite postponement of the MP mid-term rotation. And with the absence of the party president, Mr. Sam Rainsy, the wranglers cannot look to someone for mediation and conciliation. A protracted internal wrangling and bickering will cause the SRP to weakness or even to self-destruction. And if the SRP is to earn the trust and the respect of the Cambodian voters, it must be seen as democratic in nature and more tolerant of divergent views and dissenting voices. It must also practises what it had preached: democracy and openness. The SRP must bear in mind the words of the UN Envoy on Human Rights in Cambodia, Prof. Surya Subedi, that “criticism is not a crime”.


Anonymous said...

It's a shame they are fighting each other like this. SRP must be tolerant of criticism. HRP must not try cash out on SRP internal fighting.

Anonymous said...

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