Workers’ action mounts
Towards the end of October, tens of thousands joined a three day rally organised by the Cambodian opposition to protest against the rigged general election which took place almost three months ago. The result had been a blow to the ruling Cambodia People’s Party, winning only 68 seats – a greatly reduced majority, with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) securing the other 55 seats out of 123.
The CPP has been ruling Cambodia in one way or another since the 1979 Vietnamese invasion that ousted the Khmer Rouge regime. Prime Minister Hun Sen is a former defected member of the Khmer Rouge, who are often compared to other dictators such as Zimbabwe’s Mugabe or Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev for his countless records of human rights violations. He is set to continue his 28 year reign at the helm.
The highly controversial and disputed July 28 national general election result was a disaster for a ruling party which looked to be firmly in control after the 2008 landslide victory of 90 seats. Since then, the global economic crisis has affected Cambodian exports and there has been increasing social unrest against the exploitation of domestic labour by foreign capital and the opposition have weakened the CPP government’s support.
The opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, has contested the legitimacy of the election outcome by filing a complaint to the courts and challenging the results in some 15 provinces which might have robbed Cambodians up to a million votes. Sam, the formerly exiled pro-western opposition leader is claiming he would have been victorious in at least 63 seats if not for the widespread electoral fraud organised by the ruling CPP. The opposition leaders have also declared a stand-off with the CPP government by boycotting the Parliament and urging people to protest the results. Following the election, thousands poured onto the streets and clashed with the riot police, resulting in at least one person reported dead and hundreds more seriously wounded.
Despite the fact that Transparency International Cambodia reported an improvement in voting conditions in the run up to the election, in comparison with the previous election campaigns, there were numerous reports of irregularities on election day. The alleged irregularities referred to numerous instances of voters being unable to find their names on the voter registration list, voters discovering that someone had already voted for them, and some voters who were allowed to vote with no identification, incomplete identification, and already-inked fingers!
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party is convening the country’s first parliamentary session in September, but the opposition has pledged their intention to boycott it and press for a UN-backed investigation of the alleged irregularities at the poll. They are continuing their campaign, appealing to Cambodian people and also international bodies to intervene and solve the political deadlock. Despite numerous investigation demands and talks carried out under the supervision of King Norodom Sihamoni, there was no agreement met by the two parties and the situation is becoming ever more critical. There could be western intervention either by cutting off aid or by pressuring the current government for an independent investigation.
Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the region with a devastating history with the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot regime, is heavily dependent on foreign aid for its state budget. Being exploited by both Chinese investors and United States importers, the country is virtually divided up between huge foreign capital forces who are determined to exploit the labour force of the country. Since 2008, Prime Minister Hun Sen shifted towards China as the result of a weak US economy by inviting Chinese investors into the country. Currently, China is the leading foreign aid contributor to Cambodia at $US 200 million a year, while the United States is only responsible for a mere $76 million worth. China has an accumulated investment of over $ 9 billion compared to only $ 1.2 billion by the US. However, America is the leading importer of Cambodian goods and there are numerous dependency factors between the two countries.
Sam Rainsy, the opposition leader, came into popularity with his anti-Chinese rhetoric and is clearly the favourite for Obama’s government as they most probably are looking into measures to circumvent the Chinese influence in the region. Sam RainsZ’s supporters are calling on the United States and Europe to halt their foreign aid until an investigation is held into the election, while Hun Sen is claiming to have full Chinese support for future aid.
Capitalist politicians have no solutions
Although gaining popularity, the opposition CNRP is operating within the same framework as the PM Hun Sen by depending on foreign private investors who will most definitely continue to exploit the working class for profit. Sam Rainsy and his Human Rights Party coalition have no separate programme other than to support the international capitalists in their economic agenda. The livelihood of the Cambodians will not be guaranteed only by bringing down a dictatorship but also in departing from a capitalist managed economy which is proving to be disastrous.
The minimum wage in Cambodia is very low at $80 a month even after a $14 increase earlier this year. In the midst of resource-grabbing by the international capitalists, the working class is starting its own movement and developing class consciousness simultaneously. Since January this year, there were reported to have been a number of strike actions taken by the workers in the garment industry. It is estimated that well over 140 strikes would have been organized by workers by the end of the year.
This is an unprecedented number of workers’ actions in Cambodia in recent history. The garment industry is responsible for the bulk of Cambodia’s exports and employs over 400,000 workers. A working class party is needed at the head of this movement to attract broader layers of the working class and masses into the struggle. An organised working class-based party would thrive in such a situation and would give the workers the necessary guidance to make political demands.