Key points for the restoration of democracy in Cambodia

Posted by: | Posted on: January 15, 2019

Op-Ed: Asia Time

Sam Rainsy

By SAM RAINSYJANUARY 14, 2019 1:19 pm

The current government of Cambodia is illegitimate after the fake July 2018 election that led the country back to a one-party system as existed before the 1991 Paris Accords.

The illegitimacy of the election was decried by the United Nations, the European Union, the US, Japan and Australia. These institutions and countries refused to send observers to monitor a meaningless election organized after the arbitrary dissolution of the only credible opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and the arrest of its president Kem Sokha. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party “won” 100% of the parliamentary seats up for grabs.T

Hun Sen is a usurper whose illegitimate and repressive regime is facing international sanctions as announced by the EU and the US. Just like other tyrants facing international sanctions, Hun Sen is holding the Cambodian people hostage as a way to blackmail the international community into turning a blind eye to his totalitarian drift.

Hun Sen’s propaganda is aimed at buying time and trying to confuse the international community by pretending that the situation in Cambodia has returned to normal with the alleged disintegration of the CNRP.

Hun Sen’s propaganda is aimed at buying time and trying to confuse the international community by pretending that the situation in Cambodia has returned to normal with the alleged disintegration of the CNRP

Hun Sen claims that Kem Sokha has broken away from me and, as a result, most CNRP supporters have defected to the ruling CPP or decided to join another party. Therefore, according to Hun Sen, the CNRP has become irrelevant and there is no need for the international community to push for a reinstatement of this opposition party (which Hun Sen actually fears the most).

Hun Sen’s allegation about the CNRP disintegrating has proved wrong, as evidenced by the refusal of 90% of the 5,007 CNRP elected commune officials to defect to the ruling CPP in exchange for their keeping their positions, which otherwise would be confiscated from them.

The resilience of the CNRP was also reflected by Hun Sen’s failure to lure the 118 top CNRP officials whom he has previously banned from politics: Only two accepted the offer to be “rehabilitated” by Hun Sen, while the other 116 remain loyal to their party, which they want to see reinstated. I believe my recent return to leadership as acting president has helped to foil Hun Sen’s strategy to destroy the CNRP from within.

Hun Sen wrongly claims that Kem Sokha is no longer a political prisoner even though he is still being kept under house arrest. Cambodian law doesn’t allow a pretrial detention of more than 18 months. Since his arrest on September 3, 2017, Kem Sokha has been detained for more than 16 months already, pending a more and more uncertain trial. Hun Sen is therefore pretending that since he was transferred from a jail to his house with strict restrictions on his movements on September 10,  2018, Kem Sokha is no longer a political prisoner.

But Hun Sen should know that the international community considered Aung San Suu Kyi a political prisoner when she was under house arrest for 15 years in Myanmar (where she has never actually been jailed). Similarly, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela was known to have been detained for 27 years, of which 25 years were in jail and the last two years under house arrest.

Hun Sen is holding the CNRP president hostage and doesn’t want to release him because, through all kinds of intimidation and psychological pressure, he is using Kem Sokha as a tool to try to break the CNRP and to achieve his wishful thinking. But Kem Sokha remains strong and refuses to give in to Hun Sen’s pressure.

Kem Sokha’s case represents the central and weak point of Hun Sen’s repressive policy. It was the arrest of Kem Sokha under the ludicrous charge of treason that served as the pretext to dissolve the CNRP. But, as explained above, Hun Sen cannot legally keep him under house arrest beyond this March and he cannot either, in the meantime, organize any credible trial for Kem Sokha, for lack of evidence.

Hun Sen must be encouraged to engage in the only logical way to solve Kem Sokha’s case: Release him from house arrest after dropping all the charges against him. Then there will be no more grounds for maintaining the dissolution of the CNRP, and we can expect a reversal of Hun Sen’s repressive policy. Kem Sokha’s case is the key issue that needs to be resolved first if we want the situation really to start returning to normal.

As pointed out by several international observers and decision makers including Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, a consistent, comprehensive and lasting solution to Cambodia’s political crisis should include the following five points:

  1. Immediate and unconditional release of CNRP president Kem Sokha;
  2. Dropping of all charges against CNRP officials and activists;
  3. Reinstatement of the CNRP as a legal and loyal opposition party;
  4. Restitution to the CNRP of all confiscated elected local positions;
  5. Holding of new legislative elections with the participation of the CNRP.

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