Opposition Unveils Plans For Shadow Cabinet

The CNRP said on Tuesday it plans to create a shadow cabinet of lawmakers who will serve as alternative government ministers, with opposition leader Sam Rainsy also releasing a draft 67-page manifesto that would guide the party’s policies if it won power in 2018.

Mr. Rainsy released the manifesto on Monday night alongside a missive rebuking a Cambodia Daily article about the CNRP’s failure to release its policy platform and create a shadow cabinet. Senior lawmaker Son Chhay revealed the shadow cabinet plans to reporters on Tuesday at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.

CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay speaks outside the opposition party's headquarters in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)
CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay speaks outside the opposition party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

“This press conference is to announce that the CNRP has established a CNRP Assembly group,” Mr. Chhay said, explaining that 10 committees within the group would appoint shadow ministers by year’s end.

“A shadow cabinet exists in every democracy—for example, in England—so Cambodia also can have one to prepare, whether we lose or win the election,” he said.

Mr. Chhay added by telephone that the 10 committees had been formed in March, but that their present heads would not necessarily become the shadow ministers. The actual shadow cabinet, Mr. Chhay said, would be named by the committees later this year.

“You can call them research groups or expert teams. We want to present, before the end of this year, 10 spokespeople, all lawmakers, who will represent each of the 10 committees. We will appoint people to be the real shadow ministers,” he said.

Among the lawmakers in charge of the committees, Long Bunny will be in charge of finance, Ouch Sereiyuth will oversee investment and agriculture, Cheam Channy will lead interior and defense, and Kimsour Phirith will lead the justice committee.

Long Botta, who was education secretary for the Lon Nol regime, will lead the education committee, Men Sothavrin will head health and labor affairs, Tuot Khoeut will lead public works and transport, and Van Narith will lead the committee on anti-corruption.

Lawyer Ket Khy, who regularly represents CNRP figures, will be in charge of human rights.

Mr. Chhay and Mr. Rainsy last raised the prospect of a shadow cabinet comparable to “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the U.K.” in July 2014, but have done little in the two years since the CNRP joined the National Assembly to push the idea forward.

The last time the opposition created a shadow cabinet—in 2005—Mr. Channy was also placed in charge of the defense portfolio. Prime Minister Hun Sen responded by publicly accusing him of launching his own “shadow army” and imprisoned him for sedition.

Neither Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan nor Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could be reached for comment on Tuesday about the legality of the latest shadow cabinet plans.

Mr. Channy said on Tuesday that he did not fear arrest again because his committee’s positions were clearly—if briefly—stipulated in the policy document released by Mr. Rainsy on Monday night.

“I have no worries about it happening again. We only have one or two pages for learning what the committee on defense is about,” he said.

The policy manifesto, prepared by the CNRP with help from Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung foundation and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, was sent to reporters by Mr. Rainsy on Monday, and touches on a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues.

“The creation of jobs is the most important basis for reducing poverty among the millions of families that face it,” says the first item, without offering specifics about what the CNRP would do.

“A CNRP government would consider the job creation as the first priority in its political goals, by making sure every person who has the ability and the will to work has the same opportunity to find work that pays well. This measure will reduce poverty.”

On public health care, the document says the CNRP would introduce cheap or free health care for the poor—and also ensure that all citizens had access to quality health care through a social security system.

“A CNRP government would ensure there is…a system of social security for public health care that functions well and has sustainability, to guarantee all citizens can receive full medical care through cooperation of the private and public sectors,” it says.

One of the most specific indications of what the CNRP would do in government is on the issue of microfinance, which the manifesto notes has left many people in debt, while many others struggle to get cheap loans for business investment.

“A CNRP government would prepare reforms to the microfinance system by creating a legal framework that sets microfinance interest rates at no more than 1% per month, and makes the provision and receipt of credit from microfinance institutions easy and fast,” it says.

The CNRP says that it would take legal measures against lenders that provide risky microfinance credit outside of the legal system, and it would also “distribute loans that come from the international institutions’ funds and banks to the citizens who truly need it.”

Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy director of public affairs, said the manifesto did not constitute the opposition party’s official policies, and was simply a work in progress toward a document that informs its efforts to produce detailed policy.

“It’s a manifesto draft that has not been adopted yet,” Ms. Monovithya said in a message. “Only at the party congress in 2017 can we adopt it officially. That means it’s not finalized; things in there could still be modified until it is officially adopted.”

“This is not ‘policy’—it’s a manifesto,” she said. “Policies on specific areas are still being written and this manifesto serves as the guiding principles.”

Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, who last week questioned why the CNRP had not done more since it joined the National Assembly two years ago to create a shadow cabinet and release detailed policies, said he was pleased by Mr. Chhay’s announcement.

“It’s a great idea,” he said of the shadow cabinet. “If the government doesn’t allow it, they can create spokespeople for the different areas. Having a few individuals preparing to take over portfolios goes a long way for them preparing to take power.”

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