Cambodia’s strongman wants ‘democracy’ without competition

Mr. Hun Sen prefers “democracy” in which voters have only one choice. លោកហ៊ុនសែនជ្រើសយកប្រជាធិបតេយ្យដែលប្រជាពលរដ្ឋអ្នកបោះឆ្នោតមានជំរើសបក្សតែមួយប៉ុណ្ណោះ។

Opinion

Cambodia’s strongman wants ‘democracy’ without competition

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy in Tokyo in November 2015. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy in Tokyo in November 2015. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)By Editorial Board Oct. 27, 2019 at 4:25 p.m. PDT

HUN SEN, the authoritarian prime minister of Cambodia, is worried, and is using every trick in the book to threaten Sam Rainsy of the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, who plans to return to Cambodia from exile on Nov. 9. Mr. Hun Sen dominates parliament and politics — his ruling party won all 125 seats in parliament in the 2018 election — but still shows signs of insecurity over the return of Mr. Rainsy, an exponent of democracy, returning for the first time in four years.

Mr. Rainsy’s supporters have been flashing a nine-fingers sign to mark the date. The prime minister told students during remarks at a recent graduation ceremony, “Don’t ever join the nine-fingers campaign. If you dare do it, you should have one of your remaining fingers cut off.” Speaking of Mr. Rainsy, he added, “It is a plot to carry out a coup d’etat, for regime change! Millions of people and armed forces are waiting for you on November 9. Your head is not made from iron.”

Mr. Rainsy, who led his party to large gains in the 2013 and 2017 elections, has also been blunt about his intentions, telling Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service that the goal of his return is to lead a “tsunami” of his followers to restore democracy and arrest Mr. Hun Sen. He also vowed to “liberate” Kem Sokha, a co-founder of the banned party, who has been under house arrest since 2017 on fabricated charges of treason.AD

Since Mr. Rainsy’s return was announced in August, Cambodian authorities have launched a fresh crackdown on members of the outlawed party. More than 50 have been charged with crimes, and 31 have been jailed, according to Human Rights Watch. All the charges “appear to be baseless and politically motivated,” Human Rights Watch said. Ideally, Mr. Rainsy’s return should be an opportunity to breathe some competition into the political scene. Mr. Hun Sen prefers “democracy” in which voters have only one choice.

Not surprisingly, the prime minister would also prefer to be unbothered by independent journalism. A trial of two journalists has moved from being unjust to being just farce. Espionage charges should never have been brought against Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who worked for Radio Free Asia. Their trial concluded Aug. 9. Instead of a verdict, the judge ordered a new investigation. The case stems from Radio Free Asia’s closing of its bureau in Phnom Penh in September 2017, following threats from the government. Three days after the bureau’s closure, the reporters filed one more story, which was published. Nevertheless, the Cambodian government warned that any journalists still working for Radio Free Asia would be treated as spies. In November 2017, the journalists were charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source,” and a charge of producing pornography was later added. The journalists say they are innocent and have appealed. The case is a travesty of justice and should be dismissed.

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Hun Sen must compromise

Editorial

To most outsiders, as well as many Cambodians, the political purge against the CNRP is politically motivated and unjustified. Hun Sen should start letting the opposition leaders reenter politics before sympathy towards them grows further — not just among their supporters but also from within the ruling CPP and among the military top brass. A return to democracy will benefit his country politically, socially and economically.

សម្រាប់អ្នកខាងក្រៅក៏ដូចជាប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរការកំចាត់ចេញគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិគឺជារឿងនយោបាយហើយមិនអាចមានលេសណាផ្សេងឡើយ។ ហ៊ុនសែនត្រូវផ្តើមអនុញ្ញាតអោយថ្នាក់ដឹកនាំបក្សជំទាស់ចូលឆាកនយោបាយមុនក្តីអាណិតអាសូរមានការកើនឡើងដោយមិនមែនតែក្នុងចំណោមអ្នកគាំទ្រប៉ុណ្ណោះទេតែថែមទាំងមនុស្សក្នុងជួរបក្សប្រជាជននិងកងកំឡាំងប្រដាប់អាវុធ។ ការត្រឡប់ចូលប្រទេសវិញនឹងទទួលផលចំណេញទាំងនយោបាយ សេដ្ឋកិច្ច និងសង្គម។

EDITORIALCOLUMNIST

PUBLISHED : 26 OCT 2019 AT 07:12

NEWSPAPER SECTION: OPED

As a result of his brutal political purge against the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and its senior members over the past few years, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has got what he wanted. His ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a “fake”, uncontested election last year and he has prolonged his stay in power. But he has left the future of his country and its people in disarray.

Since the court dissolved the CNRP and banned its 118 members from politics for five years in 2017, Cambodia has become a de facto one-party state, and democracy is practically dead there. The country is facing the prospect of trade sanctions by the West which could put its economy in jeopardy.

Now opposition leaders are calling for a fresh election and reinstatement to their political roles. Their return could help rebalance power in politics, a good thing for the country. Hun Sen should have compromised to let it happen as he has done in the past.

But asking for political pluralism in Cambodia nowadays has proven to be a request too far for the strongman. Since the CNRP’s acting president, Sam Rainsy, and other exiled opposition leaders pledged in August to re-enter the country by land on Nov 9, the country’s Independence Day, Hun Sen has had dozens of CNRP supporters and leaders arrested and threatened to deploy the armed forces against those who dare to return.

The Thai government, for its part, has signalled that it will not allow the opposition leaders to execute their plan to lead Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand on a march back into their homeland as part of a “people’s movement” against Hun Sen. Last Sunday, Mu Sochua, the CNRP deputy leader, was denied entry to Thailand at Suvarnabhumi airport and has returned to the US where she is also a citizen.

While some doubt whether Sam Rainsy’s plan could succeed, it does not supersede the fact that Cambodia and its people would be better off if the opposition party were reinstated and its members allowed to participate in politics again.

For Hun Sen, he cannot overlook the fact that his political crackdown and the flawed election could cost his country trade benefits from the EU and the US. The EU is considering whether to scrap trade preferences — duty-free access for all exports to the EU, except arms — which are vital to Cambodia’s economy, while the US has already begun introducing diplomatic sanctions and reviewing its preferential trade scheme with the country.

Hun Sen may have banked on investment from China over the past few years, but there has been growing unease among many Cambodians regarding Chinese influence, especially given that the benefits of these deals have not been widely shared with local people.



Some may hail Cambodia’s “political stability” as a boon that has helped spur economic growth, but such stability was the result of Hun Sen’s ruthless crackdown on his rivals. Deep down, there must have been resentment among many Cambodians.

Continue reading “Hun Sen must compromise”
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Questions over Rainsy’s Cambodia return after deputy turned back

NEWS /THAILAND

“That Thai wall obstructing his return could enhance further Sam Rainsy’s stature and popularity just as Iranian political and cleric Ayatollah Khomeini gained while in exile in France before returning triumphantly in 1979,” Mong Hay said, adding that Rainsy remained a “phenomenon” and a “force to reckon with” for Hun Sen.

Questions over Rainsy’s Cambodia return after deputy turned back

Thailand denied entry to Mu Sochua, raising doubts about plan for opposition leaders to take land route back home.by Andrew Nachemson19 hours ag

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – The deputy leader of Cambodia’s opposition party has been denied entry to Thailand, casting doubt on party leader Sam Rainsy’s pledge to return from exile in Paris in early November.

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Vice-President Mu Sochua was denied entry in Bangkok on October 20 and sent back to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. From there, she headed to the United States, where she is also a citizen.

“I made it all the way to the biometrics, the fingerprint. The guy looked at the screen, then looked at me and pushed a button. And I knew that was it,” Sochua said in an interview with Al Jazeera. 

Sochua said the immigration officials who detained her were “extremely polite”.

Thai immigration authorities did not respond to requests for comment, but a document viewed by Al Jazeera showed that Sochua was rejected for “having behaviour which (was) possibly harmful” to Thai society.

CNRP President Kem Sokha was arrested for treason in September 2017, and Sochua fled the country the following month. By November the party was dissolved entirely, allowing long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen to claim all 125 parliament seats in last year’s election. 

Cambodia’s exiled former opposition leader calls for uprising

Sochua and CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy – who has remained abroad since 2015 to avoid charges – pledged to return to Cambodia by land on November 9. They said they would rally thousands of supportive Cambodian migrant workers to come from Thailand with them. 

It is the third time this year Rainsy has set a deadline for his return, and the government has responded by arresting dozens of supporters across the country, accusing them of plotting a coup. Hun Sen has also threatened to deploy the armed forces. 

‘Thai wall’

A spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told pro-government media Sochua was “blacklisted” from Thailand after the Cambodian government claimed it would issue arrest warrants to all ASEAN countries. 

Veteran political analyst Lao Mong Hay said that with Sochua denied entry, Rainsy risked arrest and extradition if he tried to enter Thailand.

Mong Hay said Rainsy’s pledge to involve Thai-based migrant workers may have forced the Thai government’s hand.

“Hun Sen would be satisfied by that much cooperation from Thailand while it can ensure no disruption to Cambodian labour employed in its economy,” Mong Hay said. 

However, Mong Hay said Rainsy’s inability to enter the country could actually help him.

“That Thai wall obstructing his return could enhance further Sam Rainsy’s stature and popularity just as Iranian political and cleric Ayatollah Khomeini gained while in exile in France before returning triumphantly in 1979,” Mong Hay said, adding that Rainsy remained a “phenomenon” and a “force to reckon with” for Hun Sen.

Ear Sophal, a Cambodian-American associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, agreed that any reputational damage to Rainsy would be minimised if he genuinely tried to return. 

“He’s got to get close and he gets an A for effort at least,” Sophal said via email. 

Continue reading “Questions over Rainsy’s Cambodia return after deputy turned back”
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‘Hun Sen is taking the piss’: Labor MP unloads on Cambodian dictator

Australia and the world made a promise to the Cambodian people, to stand up for human rights, peace and democracy. But 28 years on, the world has failed to keep its promise. Instead, Hun Sen’s regime has attacked human rights; killed democracy; given away the Cambodian people’s sovereignty; accumulated secret wealth overseasand undermined prosperity in our region.

ប្រទេសអូស្ត្រាលីនិងពិភពលោកបានសន្យាជាមួយប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរអោយក្រោកឈរឡើងដើម្បីការពារសិទ្ធិមនុស្ស សន្តិភាព និងប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ។ តែ២៨ឆ្នាំមកនេះ ពិភពលោកបរាជ័យក្នុងការរក្សាកិច្ចសន្យារបស់ខ្លួន។ ជាការជំនួសវិញ របបលោកហ៊ុន-សែន បានវាយប្រហារទៅលើសិទ្ធិមនុស្ស សំលាប់លទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ បោះបង់ចោលអធិបតេយ្យភាពដែនដីរបស់ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរ សន្សំទ្រព្យរាប់កោដិទុកនៅក្រៅប្រទេស និងបំផ្លិចបំផ្លាញសុខដុមរមនាក្នុងតំបន់។

‘Hun Sen is taking the piss’: Labor MP unloads on Cambodian dictator

James Massola
WAtoday, By James Massola, October 22, 2019 — 4.30pm

Jakarta: Federal Labor MP Julian Hill has launched an extraordinary attack on Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, declaring the dictator has sold out his country to China and warning the rising superpower is using the same tactics it used to militarise the South China Sea.

Mr Hill, whose seat of Bruce is home to one of the largest Cambodian-Australian populations, said that on the eve of the 28th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords that ended Cambodia’s long and bloody civil war, democracy was dying.

Chinese investment brings violence and drugs to once sleepy backpacking town in Cambodia

Billions of dollars of Chinese investment have transformed the town of Sihanoukville in CambodiaThirty-nine found dead in truck in Essex, UK

The MP recently spent a week in Cambodia on a self-funded study tour where he met with civil rights groups, union activists and the remnants of the now-banned political opposition.

“Australia and the world made a promise to the Cambodian people, to stand up for human rights, peace and democracy. But 28 years on, the world has failed to keep its promise,” he told Parliament.

“Instead, Hun Sen’s regime has attacked human rights; killed democracy; given away the Cambodian people’s sovereignty; accumulated secret wealth overseasand undermined prosperity in our region.”

In a speech that goes much further than the Labor leadership has been willing to in criticising the links between China and Cambodia, Mr Hill said “I don’t mean this as anti-China rhetoric … must be honest and say that I do not see what Hun Sen has let China do in Cambodia as positive”.

A woman is tended to after she was assaulted in a casino carpark in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
A woman is tended to after she was assaulted in a casino carpark in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.CREDIT:JAMES MASSOLA

“It [Chinese investment] may be couched as BRI [Belt and Road Infrastructure investment], but it shows all the signs of Hun Sen allowing the development of naval and air facilities to facilitate Chinese military planning. The same salami slicing tactics that the world saw in the South China Sea are at work.”

Sihanoukville, which has seen a huge amount of Chinese investment, is “like the fantasies about the Wild West of old. Casinos. Booze. Guns. Riches. Women”.

Sihanoukville is the worst place I have ever been.”

CAMBODIA

China’s takeover of Sihanoukville is almost complete, despite base row

Hun Sen won all 125 seats in the parliament in elections in July 2018 and has banned the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party. Former leader Kem Sokha is under house arrest in Phnom Penh, other leaders including Sam Rainsy and Mu Sochua are in exile while many activists and politicians have been jailed.

Rainsy has recently threatened to return to Cambodia on November 9 to lead a popular uprising, prompting threats of violence and military intervention from Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 34 years.

Against this back drop, Hill said Australia’s current approach to “just keep talking” to the Hun Sen regime was insufficient.

Hill said Australia should ramp up sanctions against Cambodia, get back into the “information game” through Radio Australia and short wave radio and push back by using our considerable soft power resources.

Continue reading “‘Hun Sen is taking the piss’: Labor MP unloads on Cambodian dictator”
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