Cambodia opposition vows to run in next year’s elections
CAMBODIA’S main opposition party said Tuesday it is determined to participate in elections next year despite the arrest of the party’s leader for alleged treason.
The comments by Son Chhay, a senior member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, came during the party’s first news conference since Kem Sokha’s Sept. 3 arrest in Phnom Penh.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for more than three decades, threatened on Monday to dissolve the main opposition party if it gets involved in legal proceedings against its chief, who was charged with treason last week.
Police arrested Kem Sokha on the basis of videos from several years ago showing him at a seminar where he spoke about receiving advice from U.S. pro-democracy groups. The arrest is widely viewed as a partisan political effort to cripple the opposition ahead of the 2018 vote.
Although the party has called for Kem Sokha’s release, Son Chhay said there were no plans to organise protests. Kem Sokha could face up to 30 years in prison.
His predecessor as party leader, Sam Rainsy, was forced to resign his post and party membership under an earlier threat of having the party dissolved. He now lives in exile.
“I do hope that before the election in 2018, there will be a (political) solution between all of us to provide a good environment and ensure that the election will be conducted freely and fairly,” Son Chhay said.
Hun Sen said in a speech in Phnom Penh on Monday that if the investigation into Kem Sokha finds that his party was linked to his earlier actions, it may be dissolved.
Deputy opposition chief Mu Sochua demanded Kem Sokha’s immediate release and said the party continues to support him as its leader.
Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party have in the past month accelerated the use of legal and administrative measures to undermine critics and political foes.
An English-language newspaper, The Cambodia Daily, was shut down after being accused of not paying a huge tax bill – an assessment it strongly disputed – and more than a dozen radio stations that broadcast dissident voices or used programing from U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia were forced to stop broadcasting for alleged breach of regulations.
Most mass media in Cambodia are controlled by the government or business tycoons close to it.
In nationwide local elections in June, the Cambodian People’s Party won most constituencies but received a weak majority of the popular vote, while the opposition party made gains.
The opposition had already staged an unexpectedly strong challenge in 2013’s general election.
As part of the recent assaults on his opponents, Hun Sen has suggested that the United States conspired with Kem Sokha to try to overthrow his government. He said he wanted to keep history from repeating itself, referring to Cambodia’s 1970 military coup – purportedly backed by Washington – that plunged the country into civil war and eventually four years of brutal rule by the Khmer Rouge.
“If this party (the opposition) continues to protect and defend this traitor, it means this party is also involved in treasonous acts and there is no need to allow this party to exist in our democratic society,” Hun Sen said Monday.
Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers Son Chhay, left, and Mu Sochua, centre, lead a news conference at the party headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Tuesday.