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18:45 5 March 2017

FOCUS: Cambodia's troubled politics spoiled by social media

By Puy Kea
PHNOM PENH, March 5, Kyodo

Cambodia's troubled politics between the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the opposition party have been spoiled and exploited by social media as local and general elections, both "life and death" for the two parties, are getting closer.

While some 4 million out of the country's population of 16 million are using social media such as Facebook, political messages, rifts, criticism, insults, defamation and scandals are largely posted on Facebook by parties, supporters, politicians, and leaders.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's effective use of social media is regarded as contributing to its better-than-expected result in the 2013 general election.

In that year, in the 123-seat National Assembly, the CPP won 68 seats, down 22 seats from the previous election, with the CNRP winning the remaining 55 seats.

To date, the CNRP has not run any radio or television ads, and not many in newspapers, prompting the CNRP to claim unfair media access to the voters compared to the CPP.

Sam Rainsy, president of the CNRP until he resigned on Feb. 11, was known as an active blogger on social media, using it as an effective weapon to attack the ruling party on many issues, ranging from poverty, deforestation, to corruption.

However, he faces numerous defamation lawsuits filed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen stemming from his posts on Facebook.

Recognizing it as a crucial political tool, Hun Sen has been keen and even more active than his rival in using social and online media to raise his popularity, in addition to traditional media he had been using for decades, to weaken the opposition party.

Recently, an anonymous Facebook user going by the name Seyha has posted audio recordings of secret conversations among politicians and leaders, roiling the political waters.

Seyha, who identified himself as a CNRP supporter, in recent weeks, has leaked a series of documents and confidential conversations that all touched on the reputation and privacy of CNRP lawmakers, including Sam Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha, who on March 3 was elected the leader of the party.

On Saturday, Seyha posted more confidential conversations between Hun Sen and Kem Sokha that took place on Sept. 25, 2016, and centered on how to challenge Sam Rainsy, discharge Kem Sokha from the party and replace Sam Rainsy with Kem Sokha.

In that conversation, Kem Sokha is also heard asking Hun Sen to discharge him from a court case involving sexual misconduct.

While the CNRP simply denied the allegations, Hun Sen was quick to confirm and acknowledge that he took part in the newly leaked conversation with Kem Sokha, then acting president of the CNRP.

"I acknowledge that it is my real voice. I have had many conversations with H.E. Kem Sokha via Whatsapp. I am surprised that this account was hacked and shared by an unidentified individual known only as Seyha on Facebook," he said.

The premier added that "some brothers and sisters were suspicious as to the authenticity of my voice, but I ask that that content be considered instead. Who else would be able to speak in such a general political context?"

The premier confirmed the leak just hours after the conversation, which is classified, was made public on Facebook.

The conversation was posted on Facebook after the CNRP denied the existence of another conversation between Kem Sokha, CNRP lawmakers, and a staffer of Hun Sen's Cabinet that was released on Friday.

In a post on his Facebook page on Friday, Sam Rainsy said, "Every observer of Cambodia recognizes that the country is dangerously adrift. Local and national elections are scheduled for 2017 and 2018, respectively, and these elections have the potential to end the autocratic power which has been in place for decades."

"Fear of democratic change has led those in power into an ever-blinder and more violent course of repression which affects all parts of society, and which risks derailing the electoral process and provoking an explosion of popular anger," he added.

On the other hand, Kem Sokha's statements are mostly only softly critical of the ruling party. On Sunday, he posted, "The Cambodia National Rescue Party was established by the united efforts. We always join hands to work, to think and to get success in order to get common interest for the sake of the nation and Cambodian people."

==Kyodo

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