Cablegate: Cambodia Transformative Development Noted by Staffdel

DE RUEHPF #0075/01 0161119
P 161119Z JAN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: (A) Phnom Penh 74 (B) Phnom Penh 56


1. (SBU) Summary: Cambodia's significant economic and political
developments were highlighted by a visiting Senate State Foreign
Operations Subcommittee staff delegation led by Paul Grove January
12-14. Grove, Minority Clerk of the Senate Subcommittee on State,
Foreign Operations and Related Programs, Committee on
Appropriations, served as IRI representative in Cambodia from 1994
to 1996, and has maintained civil society contacts in the country
since that time. Grove, who met PM Hun Sen during the visit (Ref
A), saw signs of maturation and increased space in both the economic
and political fields presenting "new opportunities". However, the
interlinked problems of corruption and of CPP's control of all
organs of government were noted in both field visits and meetings
with opposition figures in Phnom Penh. Michele Wymer, Minority
Professional Staff Member of the Subcommittee, and Nikole Manatt,
Majority Professional Staff Member of the Subcommittee, also
participated in the visit -- which was well-timed as political
parties begin gearing up for July national elections.

Developing Economy and Free Enterprise

2. (SBU) During his meeting with PM Hun Sen, Grove cited his
previous day's experience at a Kampong Cham pig farmers' association
as demonstrating both a growth and maturing of the Cambodian
economy. Pig farmers told Grove that they had recently won a battle
against unofficial fees and swine smuggling that was slowly
squeezing out their small-scale enterprises. Local farmers who took
part in a USAID MSME training project decided to form a business
association in an effort to force the government to respond to
police-abetted smuggling from Vietnam. Inspired by their
achievement -- shared by our Public Affairs Office which used a
recent Ambassadorial visit to the area highlighting the project to
garner widespread media coverage that prompted the RGC to crackdown
-- in getting a ban on the illegal importation of pigs, they then
successfully tackled the high unofficial fees charged by local
slaughterhouses. The Kampong Cham association is now advising
counterparts from other provinces on how to do the same. (Note:
Over the two years that the pig farmers have taken part in the USAID
project, production and sales have increased by about 230 percent on
average per farm.) Grove was struck by the increased civil space
allowing the association effectively to bring their complaints to
the government, and commented that this model of USAID technical
assistance acting behind the scenes to empower associations to
address the issues most important to them was an inexpensive but
effective way to counter a culture of corruption.

Politics in Kampong Cham: SRP Up, FUNCINPEC Out
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (SBU) Grove met with provincial-level officials from the
FUNCINPEC (FCP) and Sam Rainsy (SRP) parties. All made clear that
politicking for the July 2008 national elections is already well
underway. The FUNCINPEC officials nervously tried to explain away
recent defections (Ref B) and highlight their "royalist" character,
while wondering out loud if reconciliation with either Prince
Ranarridh or the Sam Rainsy Party is possible. The Sam Rainsy
officials expressed more confidence in their party's positioning and
platform, but also discussed the possibility of forming a bridge to
Kem Sokha's Human Rights party.

4. (SBU) The staffdel took note of the changing political landscape
in the province where Ranariddh once held his National Assembly seat
and the parties have each controlled five seats since 2003.
Ranariddh had since split off to form his own Norodom Ranariddh
Party (NRP) and local FCP chairman and MP Serei Kosal explained to
the staffdel how FUNCINPEC was going to make a comeback in the July
elections after a poor showing in the commune council elections. He
argued that the "new" FUNCINPEC would attract royalists, with the
more popular Princess Norodom Arunrasmey as prime minister
designate. The more modern FCP will address the needs of the people
with a platform on corruption, land disputes, poverty, logging,
illegal immigration and trafficking in persons, he said. Kosal
described recent defectors to CPP as corrupt patrons of the prince
set on gaining money. On funding, he said the party needed $400,000
to run for five seats in Kampong Cham, and that the party would
collect this from the people.

5. (SBU) SRP's lead parliamentarian Mao Monnyvong described the
party's strong grassroots structure that reached down to the village
level, saying that SRP and CPP were the only two forces in the
province with 394 and 800 commune council seats, respectively.
Joined by several other SRP party regulars, Monnyvong said that he
expected some CPP tricks to divert voters in the upcoming election
but that SRP was ready. He expected some vote buying. SRP was

PHNOM PENH 00000075 002 OF 004

emphasizing a concrete policy platform that was attractive to the
rural population. Instead of focusing on corruption, which did not
feed farmers' families, they planned to target unemployment and
jobs; the high prices of fertilizer, gasoline, and electricity; and
better government service, he said. Some at the local level were
interested in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, but not many. If the trial
were delayed, interest would flag, he observed. As the meeting
continued, several more SRP members came in after having conducted
youth rallies during the weekend day. Local party organization
leader Nou Pisakha said that SRP was trying hard to attract the
youth vote. (COMMENT: The group projected strength in numbers and
confidence in the results they were achieving with their
organizational work at the grass roots. END COMMENT.)

Sam Rainsy: Confident Going it Alone

6. (SBU) At the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters later in the day,
SRP President Sam Rainsy related to the staffdel the strong support
the party won in last April's commune council elections, with SRP
winning 25 percent of the total vote and gaining almost an equal
percentage of all commune council seats. The balance of power at
the local level was now shifting to the SRP and the CPP. He did not
see FCP regaining its strength. In many places, the people are now
turning to the SRP to solve their problems, he said. On former FCP
leaders, he said Ranariddh was "too greedy" and Sirivudh "too weak"
to make a difference. They are "princes without principle," he
said. King Sihamoni was not involved in politics, as he was "too

7. (SBU) On the Human Rights Party (HRP), Rainsy said that Khem
Sokha had initially capitalized on his work for the human rights
center, but now people were less enthusiastic about HRP. At the
same time members from FCP, NRP and even CPP were moving to the Sam
Rainsy Party.

8. (SBU) Rainsy described in detail the latest democratic
processes in the SRP, which now had elected representatives from
some 11,000 villages nationwide (out of 13,000). The village
councils selected commune council units, and the organization kept
going up from districts to provinces to the national level. Hence,
the national party had become stronger and was attracting good
leaders. A new generation of leaders was making SRP stronger, he
said. The launch of an SRP youth movement was also strengthening
the party. Two thirds of Cambodia's population was under 33 and in
the national elections, 1.5 million voters would be first-time
voters. This new group was very receptive to SRP's message on job
creation, education, living conditions, and stronger rule of law, he

Less Election Violence; Khmer Rouge Tribunal

9. (SBU) Rainsy remarked that he was happy that the political
climate was now marked by less violence, and this had showed that
CPP had changed its strategy. They would manage the voter lists and
might pressure some not to vote, he said. He requested that the
international community help ensure open elections, including with
some long-term observers. He strongly endorsed distribution of
national ID cards as a method to protect voters' rights on polling
day. He also worried that CPP would bring in those not entitled to
vote on election day.

10. (SBU) On the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Rainsy said that he
regretted many at the lower level who "acted with zeal" were not
being tried. He also noted that he was surprised to see the five KR
leaders already detained and charged and thought they would not have
been charged until after the July elections. The events of the KR
era is embarrassing to the government and to China, he said, and SRP
must make use of it.

11. (SBU) During a dinner for Grove's former interlocutors hosted
by the Ambassador, neither Rainsy nor Kem Sokha seemed interested in
reaching out to the other. Conversation between the two was
minimal, although Rainsy -- addressing questions posed by civil
society representatives -- asserted that the plethora of small
parties competing in the election divides the vote and benefits the
CPP. Rainsy continued a theme he raised in a smaller, pre-dinner
meeting with Grove, expressing concern that the CPP has already won
the election by disenfranchising potential voters and manipulating
the voters' lists. He did, however, predict that there will be less
political violence and outright fraud, reiterating that the CPP has
changed its methods. Dinner guests agreed that Cambodia has become
more open for people to express opinions and even complain about
government officials by name. It is still a difficult place, with a
complex political landscape, but change will come as people see
their opportunities being limited by corruption and/or inept
governance and begin to vocalize complaints.

PHNOM PENH 00000075 003 OF 004

"Next Generation": Views on KRT, Leadership

12. (SBU) Theary Seng from the Center for Social Development (CSD)
and Youk Chhang from the Documentation Center (DC-CAM) expressed the
opinion that the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC) is playing a crucial
role in shifting peoples' comfort with raising difficult subjects.
Seng said public opinion shifted when the four additional arrests
followed the (predictable) detention of Duch; up to that point,
people didn't believe, but now the tribunal process had opened up a
discussion which caused even former King Sihanouk publicly to
address allegations. Grove noted some individuals with whom he
spoke still did not believe, citing negative experiences with the
corrupt Cambodian court system and doubting that the KRT could be
different. Seng argued that the KRT was generating a new level of
attention to rule of law issues and providing a context for
discussions about Cambodian history, justice and human rights.

13. (SBU) The dinner guests also discussed the "next generation" of
possible CPP leaders, focusing on the children of today's elite.
Hun Sen's son Hun Manet was mentioned as playing an increased role.
Grove had the opportunity to meet Manet prior to departure.

UNDP on Election Preparations

14. (SBU) At the UNDP's governance unit, Aamir Arain noted that the
UNDP had opted out of a Ministry of Interior (MOI) program to erase
presumed ghost voters from the voter registration lists, noting that
complaints had reduced the 650,000-plus names down to 635,000 names.
He suspected at least 250,000 names slated to be erased were of
eligible voters. He could not say how many of those 250,000 might
be dual-registered and thus still have the right to cast a ballot on
election day. But he characterized the evidence used to erase names
as weak and used the phrase "calculated manipulation" to describe
the efforts of local officials in the process.

15. (SBU) UNDP reviewed its ongoing efforts to get all eligible
voters national ID cards by election day using U.S.-based Datacard
company and high-technology identification software. UNDP has
successfully moved the management of ID cards into the secure MOI
compound, whereas before identities were in the private servers of
private Chinese-owned companies. Arain said some 350,000 ID cards
were produced but not distributed and that another 100,000 were
still in the pre-production pipeline. (COMMENT: We understand that
the UNDP is using its considerable budget leverage to push for
speeding up national ID distribution. The embassy will continue to
follow this issue closely and use its influence at high levels to
ensure the best possible ID distribution. END COMMENT.)

16. (SBU) Noting the vulnerability of use of the temporary ID
(form 1018) on election day, which are certified by commune chiefs
(mostly CPP), Arain said UNDP would be helping with election
observer training. On media, he explained that a 20-minute election
program would air on national television each day during the
one-month election campaign and that the NEC - not the government
controlled stations - would allocate time on this prime-time show
according to a formula that gives CPP and SRP about equal time, and
the other parties lesser portions. Arain also described a one-hour
"Equity" program being aired since November that covers
election-related issues, and follows Monday lunchtime news and is
repeated in a Sunday prime time slot. While not related to
political parties, it has a strong community programming format and
includes interviews with prominent parliamentarians (including Sam
Rainsy). Given deficiencies and shortcomings in the electoral
process to date, Arain said that the elections could not be
described as "free and fair" but only as "operationally very good"
-- assuming no major problems in the run up to the elections and on
election day.

17. (SBU) Comment: One dinner guest, noting that the CPP appears
to be quite popular with the youth, commented that expectations in
Cambodia are quite low and things are going well. The real question
as Cambodia moves forward is whether economic development, a
decrease in political violence, and an increase in "political space"
mean that a reasonably satisfied electorate supports the status quo
perceived as bringing them these benefits or whether these changes
can be shaped into opportunities by the political opposition.
Unfortunately, the various parties of the opposition devote
significant time and energy to sniping at each other. In a country
with a complex formula for allocating seats in the National Assembly
and where personal animosities play a large role in party decisions,
the "real question" may never get asked and party sniping may leave
a clear path for continued CPP dominance. In the meantime, it is
important to continue to look for agents of change, like the lowly
pig farmers, who are willing to speak up against corruption when it
threatens their livelihood. Incremental progress can be achieved in
just governance and economic growth, to the benefits of Cambodians,
the region, and the U.S. But, it requires diligence and a clear and

PHNOM PENH 00000075 004 OF 004

consistent U.S. policy shared by the executive and legislative
branches. As the departing staffdel noted, "the opportunities are

Paul Grove has cleared this cable.


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