Cambodia op­po­si­tion vows to run in next year’s elec­tions

The Myanmar Times - - Asean Focus -

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.

Photo: AP

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.

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