Country Report Cambodia February 2010

Outlook for 2010-11: Domestic politics

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) will remain politically dominant in 2010-11. At the general election in July 2008 the CPP tightened its grip on power, winning 90 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament). The CPP consolidated its position in May 2009, when it won around 75% of the vote in the first election for members of provincial and district councils. As a result of the party's election victories, the authoritarian tendencies of the prime minister, Hun Sen, and the CPP's harsh treatment of its opponents, concerns will increase that the country is becoming a de facto one-party state, with few checks on executive power. In recent years the courts have upheld several convictions against prominent opposition figures, such as Sam Rainsy, the leader of the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), as well as trade unionists and human rights activists, many of whom have been forced into exile to avoid arrest. Sam Rainsy returned from a year of self-imposed exile in 2006, after being pardoned for defaming Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The apparatus of the state will continue to be used against the government's opponents. In late December the government issued a new arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy, this time in relation to a protest on the border with Vietnam. The opposition leader, who was in France when the warrant was issued, may choose to remain in exile rather than return home and face imprisonment.

In an attempt to challenge the CPP at the 2008 council elections, the SRP and another opposition party, the Human Rights Party (HRP), led by Kem Sokha, formed an alliance, the Democratic Movement for Change. However, the grouping proved ineffectual, with many of its members allegedly accepting bribes to vote for CPP candidates. A formal merger between the two parties is possible ahead of the next general election, which is due in 2013. At the 2008 general election they won a total of 29 seats (26 for the SRP and three for the HRP) in the National Assembly, representing a modest improvement on their performance in the 2003 poll, but their gains came at the expense of the two rival royalist parties, the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Co-operative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) and the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), which now hold only two seats each. Hun Sen is now so firmly entrenched in power that any electoral challenge to his rule seems destined to fail.

Economic growth will recover in 2010-11 following a painful year in 2009, when the global recession led to a collapse in garment exports, leaving tens of thousands of factory workers jobless. But there will be no return to the GDP growth rates of more than 10% a year that were recorded before the 2008-09 crisis. The SRP-led opposition will continue to seek to exploit the economic hardship being suffered by Cambodians in an attempt to increase its support at the expense of the CPP. Land grabs by developers have driven entire communities from their homes, and such activities will remain a source of resentment in cities and countryside alike.

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