Cambodia’s jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha on Monday said he would not negotiate with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) for a resolution to the country’s political crisis unless his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is reinstated and allowed to participate in a general election this month.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November over allegations it was involved in a plot to topple the government, stripping the party’s officials of their posts and banning 118 lawmakers from politics for five years.
The CNRP’s seats in parliament were distributed to government-friendly parties that had been rejected by voters.
The dissolution of the CNRP and the arrest of its president Kem Sokha, as well as a crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, are measures widely seen as part of a bid by Prime Minister Hun Sen to ensure that the CPP stays in power in Cambodia following the country’s July 29 ballot. Hun Sen marks 33 years in office this year.
On Sunday, amid speculation that the two parties were negotiating ahead of the election, CNRP Youth Movement leader Hing Soksan told RFA’s Khmer Service that Kem Sokha would not deal with the CPP unless the government releases him and other political prisoners, lifts the ban on lawmakers from taking part in politics, reverses the Supreme Court ruling on the CNRP, and allows NGOs and the media to operate freely.
Hing Sokan, who is also Kem Sokha’s assistant, relayed the opposition leader’s statement a day after CNRP lawmaker Yem Ponhearith took to Facebook, saying that Kem Sokha had called on his supporters to “remain patient for the sake of the nation.”
In the Facebook post, Yem Ponhearith wrote that Kem Sokha had also urged Cambodians to “remain confident and resilient,” reiterated his loyalty to voters, and called on CNRP officials “not to betray the will of the party’s supporters.”
When asked whether talks were underway, CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan told RFA on Monday that “there are currently no official negotiations” between the two parties.
“There were only some informal messages about the ruling party wanting a solution to the 118 CNRP officials so that we can return to politics,” he said, without elaborating.
“However, the ruling party would like the upcoming election to proceed as is, while Kem Sokha remains behind bars. Civil society organizations and the media can operate freely and independently.”
Sok Eysan went further to say that “there is no such thing” as ongoing talks between the ruling and opposition parties, and dismissed any suggestion otherwise as “a rumor by the CNRP to deceive people.”
“These people [the CNRP] are very good at deception,” he said.
“But it’s not a joke to dissolve the CNRP—the decision has already been made and it’s at the point of no return. The Supreme Court is serious about this. When the CNRP was dissolved, that was the end.”
Analyst Hang Vitou told RFA that the ruling party was unlikely to negotiate with the CNRP, because doing so at this point would make it look bad.
“The best thing for the ruling party to do now is release Kem Sokha,” he said.
“However, I think the government won’t be willing to show any sign of defeat or humiliation on its part by starting negotiations.”
Call for dialogue
Last week, speaking at the 38th session of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, Japan’s delegation to the U.N. expressed concern over the dissolution of the CNRP and urged all stakeholders in Cambodia to promote dialogue.
Amid Hun Sen’s crackdown on the political opposition, both the U.S. and EU have withdrawn donor support for Cambodia’s elections, citing government actions seen as limiting democracy in the country.
But Japan, among the largest funders of Cambodia’s 2018 elections, has maintained that it has no intention of pulling its electoral aid ahead of the July vote.
Japan has already provided Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC)—the country’s top electoral body—with computers to assist with its ballots and has faced criticism of its continued support from the NGO community, such as New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Japan’s stance also has prompted repeated protests from members of the Cambodian diaspora around the globe, who have urged Tokyo to end its support for the election until Hun Sen “reinstates democracy” in Cambodia and allows the CNRP to register for the ballot.
Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, slammed Japan’s call for dialogue in Cambodia in a tweet on Monday, suggesting that Tokyo needs to take decisive action against Hun Sen’s regime over the upcoming vote.
“It is 3 weeks until the sham ‘election’ in #Cambodia, and #Japan is calling for dialogue? Have they been on another planet? #HunSen knows where #KemSokha is: he put him in prison … Is Japan trying to make fun of itself?”