Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 05:58 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 05:58 | SYDNEY

Cambodian election aftermath: Quiet flows the Mekong



11 October 2013 11:04

Contrary to some media reports and photographs of razor wire in the streets, Phnom Penh has appeared calm over the past four days I have been here. Yesterday morning there was a demonstration near the Phnom (see photo above), the city's most recognisable landmark, but it was to do with land issues, a perennial problem and one with political overtones but not directly linked to the current tensions over the disputed July election.

The two sides remain locked into their positions and there is little sign of movement. Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), is overseas drumming up support for his claims that the election was rigged by the government, and the government, while ready to make some marginal concessions, is unready to grant Sam Rainsy and his colleagues their major demands, which include the presidency of the National Assembly being given to a CNRP member of parliament.

There is, I have found, agreement on one point, and that is the fact that the election result reflects a changed mood among the population, with social media and the youth vote playing their part as never before. There seems no doubt the result surprised government and opposition supporters alike.

But no one seems to know what the next step should be. Repeatedly I have been told that there will be a compromise, but just what the nature of that compromise will be has eluded all of my interlocutors.

At the risk of broad generalisation, what we are seeing is a reflection of long-established Cambodian political culture in which adopting absolutist positions is the first choice of individuals of every political persuasion. From the point of view of Hun Sen and his supporters, there seems no reason to cede the dominance they have established over many years. From the point of view of the CNRP (at least in some cases), there is not all that much interest in being in parliament but every interest in striking back at a government that has in the past marginalised or prosecuted them.

But without doubt Sam Rainsy is interested in power. He is 65 and does not want to wait five more years to play a leading role in Cambodian politics. We will have to wait to see whether compromise will emerge.

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