Sunday, December 15, 2013

Two Crisis in Different Natures

Ms.Yingluk, the 13th Thai Prime Minister since 1985

Hun Sen, a Cambodian Prime Minister since 1985

By Khmer Wathanakam

After more than two years on power by landslide election victory, Thai Prime Minister Yingluk Shinawatra has faced a similar fate as her brother Tacksin who was ousted by military coup in 2006.   Two weeks of violent protest has forced Prime Minister Yingluk to dissolve her democratic elected parliament and called for a new snap election in order to avert bloodshed.  Nevertheless, her painful concession has not satisfied the protester conservative leader Suthep who has demanded her resignation and prosecution for unspecified alleged corruption.  Ms.Yingluk emotionally pleaded on TV to Thai people for calm and set a new election has struck hearts and minds of Cambodian people who are tussling with Hun Sen who had rigged the election which cost the opposition victory.  During election protest rally in Seam Reap, Sam Rainsey openly called for Hun Sen to resign or to fallow Ms.Yingluk's solution.  But every call and demand of the people seems fall on Hun Sen's deaf ears since he fears nothing but to lose his power.  Now many concerns have been raised whether the Cambodian opposition are tough enough to force Hun Sen to step down or to accept a new election.

To understand why Cambodian crisis has dragged on too long while Thai political crisis seems reach on its final stage, we should look into political system of the two countries.  Thailand is a true democratic country where all national institutions are very independent from political parties especially military, police, court, and national election committee.  When these power sources are neutral, they create balance of power that provides political parties the same playing fields to deter each other if any one dares to go beyond power limit.  Such political environment has enhanced and sustained democratic process to move forward.  Thailand and Japan have frequently changed their leaders more than any country in the world.  Since 1985 when Hun Sen was appointed as a prime minister by Vietnamese troops, Thailand has been ruled by at least 13 prime ministers, and most of them were on power for less than a year; only Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanon had the longest rule from 1980 to 1988.  He was well-known among Thai people as a fierce anti-Vietnamese invasion in Cambodia, and he ended Thai Communist insurgency in 1982 through an amnesty law.  A frequent change of Thai leaders is based on Thai political culture when people lost faith with their leaders, they come to streets to demand their leaders resigned or intervened by military.

A way Prime Minster Yingluk has handled a situation in Thailand is well acclaimed by most Cambodian people though the Thai protesters still did not satisfy.  Sam Rainsey even asked people in a rally in Seam Reap to applause Prime Minister Yingluck for her courage and asked Hun Sen to do the same.  Although Thai crisis has reached its final stage, the Yingluk's government is still in limbo, for the protesters have demanded her complete resignation and created an "unelected People's Council" to rule the country without election.  Such a demand will push Thailand into an undemocratic process if the protesters are successful.  Now the pro-government Red Shirt group has warned that it will bring more people to defense Yingluk's government if the yellow Shirt protesters use forces to bring her down.   If a standoff between the Red and Yellow shirts take place, the military will intervene as happened in the past and new election will be introduced again.  This is how a cycle of political crisis in Thailand takes place since the military is above politics, the politicians are scared each other.  This is not the case in Cambodia where every national institution is under one man or one party control.

On the public eyes, the Thai protesters get less sympathy from people and international community since the protesters wanted an unelected body to rule the country which contradicts to the principle of democracy, and the whole world has been watching the situation in Thailand closely.  Meanwhile, the Thai military, which used to intervene in Thai political crisis in the past, has repeatedly refused to get involved when the protest leader, Suthep, openly asked this powerful institution to intervene in order to end the crisis quickly.  Though the army has refused to take sides now, the Yingluk's government is not out of wood yet if the democrat, the oldest and largest opposition party, boycotts in this proposed snap election, the crisis will deepen, and it will be more likely for the army to intervene at the end.

In Cambodia, if the military is neutral like in Thailand, the opposition can fallow the same way as the Thai protesters, for there is a balance of power in place.  Thai government either run by any party, always refrains or hesitates to use excessive force or violence against protesters unless a situation is out of control, for they are on a watchful eyes of the army.  The Thai military either intervenes on the protesters or government side depend on its best judgement.  Now even the protesters have called for the military to intervene on the sake of people, there is not good enough reason for its intervention  since the protesters wanted an unelected "people council" to rule the country instead of an elected government.  The way that Yingluk's government restrained from violent crack down on the protesters and even let them occupied many government buildings to avoid bloodshed can keep the army from stepping in.  This how the balance of power that all Thai politicians have enjoyed hitherto.

In contrast, Cambodia has no such a balance of power in place when Hun Sen and his party have controlled everything from village base through a top of national institutions, even the Royal palace and pagodas (Wat) are not spared from their strict control.  Thus, the opposition can't adopt a Thai protest model because it will be dangerous as Hun Sen can order his police and military to crush the protesters on his own will as we have witnessed in the past.  A new strategy that has adopted by the CNRP to start a daily protest may not work quickly but to apply rigid pressure on Hun Sen to step down or to call for a new election while at the same time helps to preserve safety for the protesters.  Such a peaceful strategy will neutralize Hun Sen's power from using any violent protest as his excuse to use violent crackdown on the protesters, and whenever the balance of power has reached a tipping point, the protesters will move to a final stage of removing this illegitimate leader from power as Kem Sokha warned that Hun Sen should step down voluntarily or wait until people pull him down.  This is the first stern warning from the opposition since the beginning of the crisis though there is no sign that the opposition are able to bring more protesters on the streets than the current numbers.

The Thai conflict started between the conservative urban elites (Yellow-Shirt) and the liberal poor workers and rural farmers (Red-Shirt) while in Cambodia between the democrat, nationalists against dictatorship, corrupt cronies, and foreign stooges.  Cambodia has been ruled by one prime minister since 1985 in compared with 13 prime ministers in Thailand.  The crisis in Cambodia may last longer and moves towards a resolute and dangerous point since Cambodia has no independent institutions to intervene as in Thailand--military and Royal institutions.  Albeit the Thai crisis still lingers, a new election on February 3, 2014 or the military intervention are the key mechanism to end the crisis ahead.  In Cambodia, the Royal and military institutions are strictly under the CPP's control, so they definitely will intervene in a political crisis on Hun Sen's behest. 

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