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News analysis: Cambodia should hold referendum to decide on reelection: political analysts

English.news.cn   2013-12-29 11:39:23            

by Wang Qibing, Nguon Sovan

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia should hold a referendum to decide whether the country calls a reelection or not after allegations of serious irregularities during July's election that handed victory to Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party, political analysts said.

Results of July poll showed that Hun Sen's ruling party won a majority of vote with 68 parliamentary seats against 55 seats for Sam Rainsy's opposition party, but the opposition refused to accept the outcome and has boycotted parliament since then.

Since Dec. 15, Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has launched a new round of daily anti- government protests and led thousands of supporters through streets in capital Phnom Penh to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen and a re-vote.

Kek Galabru, president of a renowned human rights group Licadho, proposed that a referendum could be the best choice to break through the five-month-old political dispute in the country.

"In my opinion, the leaders of the two parties are the same Khmers. If they have the same good will and want to serve the interest of the nation and the people, they should sit down and talk to find ways to resolve their differences," she told Xinhua on Saturday.

"In a democratic society, people are the owners of the power, so the two leaders should ask the people through a referendum whether they want a reelection or not. If a majority of them want a re-vote, they must follow the will of the people," she said.

She said that without a referendum or a re-vote, the ongoing crisis could lead the country into political instability and economic depression.

"The opposition's daily protests are causing social instability and discouraging investors and tourists to Cambodia," she said.

Sok Touch, deputy director general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia's International Relations Institute, shared Kek Galabru's views, saying that the referendum is a popular form used in democratic countries.

He also proposed that the two political leaders should invite King Norodom Sihamoni to be a mediator in talks.

However, Premier Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 28 years, said on Dec. 20 that he would neither step down nor hold a reelection since he had done nothing wrong.

"I have ascended to the prime minister through the constitution. If I descend, it will also be through the constitution," Hun Sen told reporters. "Therefore, I confirm that there is no reelection because no one can dissolve the National Assembly and no mechanism states about a snap election before the end of the term."

He said Cambodia was different from other countries where prime ministers could dissolve parliaments.

Under Article 78 of Cambodia's constitution, he said, the National Assembly shall not be dissolved before the end of its five-year term, except when the royal government is twice deposed within a period of 12 months.

"So, in Cambodia, the prime minister, the king, and the National Assembly itself have no rights to dissolve the parliament, " he said.

Hun Sen also threatened to take legal action against protesters if they blocked highways or captured government buildings.

"The government will not agree with any unlawful activities that can cause instability to the nation and the people," he said.


Last month, tens of thousands of the anti-Thai government protesters, led by former Democrat Member of Parliament Suthep Thaugsuban, had captured key government buildings to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. As a result, Yingluck announced the dissolution of the Lower House of Parliament and called an early election in February.

Such acts will not achieve success in Cambodia, Sok Touch said, noting that in Thailand, the army is neutral, not under Yingluck's control, while the army in Cambodia is under the control of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government.

"In Thailand, army chief is not involved in either political party, so the army can stage a coup against the government, but in Cambodia, army chief belongs to Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party, so when there are anti-government protests, the government can use armed forces to suppress dissidents,"he said.

Chheang Vannarith, lecturer of Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Leeds in Britain, said that the roles of military and the monarchy network in Thailand determine domestic political development, while in Cambodia, there is no politically polarizing figure, meaning that politicians and political parties are the key actors.

He said in Cambodia, the opposition would be unable to force Prime Minister Hun Sen to resign and call a re-vote.

"Hun Sen remains the key figure in maintaining political stability and solutions," he told Xinhua. "It is impossible to reach any political solutions without the political will and support from Hun Sen."

Ros Chantrabot, advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Saturday that the current Hun Sen-led government is legitimate and fully supported by the people, the armed forces and King Norodom Sihamoni.

"The opposition cannot pull Cambodia into a state of instability,"he told Xinhua. "Jasmine revolutions such as in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt will be absolutely impossible in Cambodia," he said.


Besides the opposition's anti-government protests, tens of thousands of garment workers have gone on strikes nationwide since Wednesday after the government decided to raise a monthly minimum wage in the garment sector to 95 U.S. dollars from April onwards from the current 80 dollars, but the pro-opposition trade unions disagreed with the new wage hike and demanded that the government double the wage to 160 dollars from 2014.

Garment sector, the country's largest foreign currency earner, consists of about 500 factories employing some 510,000 workers. The sector earned 5 billion U.S. dollars in the first 11 months of this year.

CNRP's President Sam Rainsy, along with his supporters, has been inciting striking workers to join his anti-government protests by promising to increase their minimum wage to 160 dollars if his party comes to power.

On Thursday, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) told all factories to stop production over security and safety concerns.

"If the workers are working in the factories, some bad elements among the demonstrators will go around and destroy your factories' gates and properties in order to force the workers out to join the demonstration to demand the wage of 160 U.S. dollars," a GMAC's statement said. "It is safer if there are no workers in the factories."

Ken Loo, GMAC's secretary general, said the association has not estimated the daily loss from the strike, but said it would be a "large amount of money."

"The ongoing garment strikes have a very negative impact on the garment industry," he told Xinhua.

Kek Galabru was concerned that garment strikes may turn into riots if the workers' demand for wage hike is not met.

"If riots erupt, it could stall the whole economy since the garment sector is the main engine of the country's economic growth, " she said. "We're also worried that garment manufacturers may move to other countries that have better investment environment."

Editor: Shen Qing
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