Cablegate: After the April 1 Elections: Cambodia's Political

DE RUEHPF #0631/01 1270908
O 070908Z MAY 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary. Discussions with political party sources
suggest that Cambodia's parties are reviewing their political
futures and respective strategies going into the 2008
national elections. The Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) is focused on
uniting the non-ruling parties to face off against the CPP in
2008 but is leaving its options open; there are rumors that
FUNCINPEC and the Ranariddh party are in discussions about a
possible re-unification; the Ranariddh party continues to
press for Ranariddh's return, and the CPP is quietly working
to ensure that the ruling party loses no ground to the SRP in
the lead up to the 2008 elections. Meanwhile, the NEC has
announced the official results of the April 1 commune
elections, having dismissed most complaints. The CPP won
7,987 seats, garnering just over 61 percent of the popular
vote (roughly the same percentage as 2002). The SRP won
2,671 seats capturing 25.5 percent of the popular vote -- a
marked increase for the SRP compared with its 2002 results.
The NRP and FUNCINPEC combined totaled roughly 6 percent,
while the remaining votes were scattered among the many small
parties or were disqualified. End Summary.

NEC Results Announced

2. (U) On April 25 and only one day behind the National
Election Committee's schedule, the NEC announced the final
results of the April 1 commune elections. There were no
surprises, as each party had collected preliminary results
from their respective party monitors within a week of the
election. The CPP won 7,987 seats, garnering just over 61
percent of the popular vote (roughly the same percentage as
2002). The SRP won 2,671 seats capturing 25.5 percent of the
popular vote -- a marked increase for the SRP compared with
its 2002 results. The NRP and FUNCINPEC combined totaled
roughly 6 percent. While FUNCINPEC won two commune chief
positions and the NRP won none, the total number of commune
councilors won by FUNCINPEC (274) was less than that won by
the NRP (425). The CPP immediately recognized the results of
the election while the SRP complained that the opposition
would not accept the results due to the many irregularities
and the NEC's rejection of all the SRP's complaints. Voter
turnout for the elections was approximately 65 percent, an
all-time low for nationwide elections in Cambodia since 1993.

NRP Looks Ahead; Royalists Consider Uniting

3 (U) In the aftermath of the elections, the parties have
been analyzing the results and considering ways to strengthen
their respective positions in advance of the national
elections slated for July 2008. Now that each party has a
baseline of recent voter support as evidenced by the April 1
results, all are looking to maximize their chances in 2008 --
for the CPP, the focus is on splitting the opposition and
enforcing party discipline to keep CPP voters on side. For
the non-ruling parties, the theme of most discussions centers
on the pros/cons of joining forces with either the CPP or
other parties. One party has already clarified its position.
The small royalist party, Sangkum Chietiniyum Front Party,
of Prince Sisowath Thomico, announced its intention to merge
with Ranariddh's party in an effort to unify the royalists; a
congress is planned this month to formalize the arrangement,
which has been welcomed by the NRP. Ranariddh also has been
in discussions with the SRP to form an alliance against the
CPP, which Rainsy initially accepted but then indicated that
his party might work just as easily with the CPP following
the 2008 elections. The apparent flip-flop was explained by
SRP sources as a means by which the SRP would not openly
confront the CPP, thereby preserving the safety of its
activists. Some SRP members assure us privately that Rainsy
is adamant about reinvigorating an alliance of all opposition
parties; one other SRP official, however, told us that Rainsy
may indeed cut a deal with the CPP at some future point.

4. (SBU) FUNCINPEC held a workshop following the election
to survey the results of the commune council polling, which
saw FUNCINPEC support drop to an all-time low -- even falling
behind the NRP. The April 21-22 seminar reportedly was a
somber event, with 300 people attending. Preceding the start
of the workshop was news of the defection of FUNCINPEC MP Ly
Thuch to the CPP, an exodus which many predicted would
continue up to the 2008 elections. Given the dismal showing
of FUNCINPEC on April 1, sources within the party agree that
most current FUNCINPEC MPs will likely move to either the CPP
or SRP before the elections -- the two leading parties
following April 1. FUNCINPEC attendees at the workshop
blamed internal party rifts, FUNCINPEC's unclear strategy,
irregular contact between the national party headquarters and

PHNOM PENH 00000631 002 OF 003

the grassroots supporters, and the NEC's biased policies for
the party's poor showing.

5. (SBU) In response to Prince Ranariddh's suggestion that
the royalists unite against the CPP, Minister for Rural
Development and FUNCINPEC First VP Lu Lay Sreng publicly
invited the Prince to return to FUNCINPEC with the title of
honorary president -- an invitation that the Prince rejected
prior to creating the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) in late
2006. Prince Ranariddh again rejected the invitation, and
organized a meeting of followers in Malaysia recently, which
some FUNCINPEC members attended. Although the basis of the
meeting was to brainstorm about ways for Ranariddh to return
to Cambodia, discussions reportedly also centered on
alliances with other parties -- the SRP, FUNCINPEC, and yes
-- even a return to partnership with the CPP. We understand
that Lu Lay Sreng has also requested a face-to-face meeting
with Ranariddh, which senior NRP officials are quietly trying
to arrange.

Fuzzy Math Gives SRP Ambitious Hopes for 2008

6. (SBU) In an April 27 meeting with A/DCM, SRP Secretary
General Mu Sochua complained that the National Election
Committee rejected the SRP's election-related complaints or
claimed that they more properly fell under the jurisdiction
of the courts. Most worrisome has been that three newly
elected commune chiefs have had legal cases brought against
them that the SRP believes are politically motivated. Mu
Sochua also complained that her request to discuss better
cooperation between the SRP and the CPP on decentralization
was met with disinterest by her CPP counterpart, Say Chhum.
Rainsy went to see DPM Sok An, but PM Hun Sen later
instructed Rainsy to send a letter to the Ministry of
Interior, which has oversight for the implementation of the
RGC's decentralization program. Sar Kheng reportedly has
agreed to meet with Rainsy on the opposition leader's return
from Europe.

7. (SBU) Sochua indicated that Rainsy's main goal is to see
a unified opposition going into the 2008 elections. Recent
conversations with Kem Sokha have been productive, and she
said that both Rainsy and Kem Sokha agreed to a "verbal
ceasefire" and will not publicly attack one another while
discussions continue. The "Kem Sokha factor" in the 2008
elections remains unclear, but ideally the SRP would like to
have the former NGO leader inside the SRP tent, and not
competing against it. She said that Rainsy welcomed Prince
Norodom Ranariddh's agreement to a united front, and noted
that the Prince's absence from the country will have a
negative effect on NRP support in 2008. Asked about SRP
prospects for continuing to gain support against the CPP, Mu
Sochua said that Rainsy sees reason to believe that a united
opposition in 2008 can win, given the 50 percent plus one
rule. She explained that following the 2002 commune
elections, the CPP won about 61 percent of the popular vote
-- not unlike this time. In the 2003 national elections,
however, the CPP's level of voter support dropped to 47
percent. She predicted that the 2008 national elections
would see a similar lowering of vote support for the CPP, and
if it dropped to only 47 percent, the CPP would be unable to
form a government. A uniting of all non-CPP parties could
therefore win the elections if no one agreed to a coalition
with the CPP, she argued.

8. (SBU) Sochua defended the notion that support for the
CPP would drop substantially for the 2008 election because
she claimed the fundamental nature of the commune and
national elections is different. For the commune elections,
she argued, there is more local pressure on people to vote
for the CPP as the grassroots network of CPP officials is so
strong and some local CPP officials are admittedly popular.
There are consequences if the CPP does not win at the local
level and therefore the pressure to support the ruling party
is much stronger in the communes. However, for the national
elections, the average CPP voter does not necessarily
identify with the senior leaders and can change his/her vote
if unhappy with national policies. She noted that many CPP
voters are against the government's policies on land grabbing
and the poor state of the judiciary. The SRP Secretary
General believes that as happened in 2003, voter support for
the CPP will dip during the national elections, and a strong
opposition can do well -- well enough to win if all the
non-ruling parties hold together.


PHNOM PENH 00000631 003 OF 003

9. (SBU) The political buzz and maneuvering in the
aftermath of the April 1 elections is in high pitch.
Initially, the opposition parties were all talking of a
unified democratic front. More recently, we have heard that
everyone is talking about a possible alliance with the CPP.
Even Rainsy reportedly is unsure that if he did win, he could
govern the country -- and is weighing the prospect of a
possible partnership with the CPP. While the other
non-ruling parties have parroted the same talking points
about the need to form a united political front against the
CPP, only the inconsequential Sangkum party of Prince Thomico
has taken any tangible steps toward realizing that goal. All
the others appear to be weighing their options before
committing themselves to a particular path. Most agree,
however, that any united front will need to announce itself
well enough in advance of election day if such a front is to
be successful in convincing voters that it can win. The
six-month mark before the elections (i.e., February 2008)
seems to be the time when all sources agree that the serious
dealing will take place. However, while all the parties have
talked tough about the need to unite, all are also apparently
considering how they might join a CPP-led government --
making it clear that a unified opposition will not be any
easier to achieve in 2008 than it was in 2003 or any earlier
period. End Comment.


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