Efforts by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen to destroy his political opposition ahead of national elections next year are robbing millions of Cambodian voters of their voice in determining the country’s future, Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Mu Sochua said on Wednesday.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service from an undisclosed location after fleeing Cambodia this week, Mu Sochua called for respect for the voices of the three million Cambodians who voted for the CNRP in local elections this year.
“They are not like paper to be used for tearing or for wrapping things, or like piles of sugar to be passed around to be eaten. They represent the will of our citizens,” she said.
“What if those three million people now stand up and stage protests? What will happen to our nation?”
“I hope that things will not come to this,” she said.
Mu Sochua escaped Cambodia on a flight from Phnom Penh on Tuesday ahead of warnings she would be arrested for conspiring with jailed CNRP leader Kem Sokha to overthrow the Cambodian government with the help of Western governments.
Almost 20 CNRP lawmakers, along with fellow deputy-president Eng Chhay Eang and a number of party activists, have also fled Cambodia fearing retaliation by Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party following important electoral gains by the CNRP in June.
“If I were the only one facing arrest, it would not matter, and if our courts were genuinely independent, I would not be afraid,” Mu Sochua said. “But [Cambodia’s rulers] now see enemies surrounding them everywhere.”
“This is a very dangerous time!” she said.
'Neither free nor fair'
If CNRP leaders are forced out of Cambodia ahead of next year’s national election, “this will effectively mean the death of Cambodian democracy,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in an Oct. 4 statement.
“No one doubts [that Hun Sen] can order instant violence by the military and police, and controls all the levers in Cambodia’s kangaroo courts,” Robertson said, adding, “The 2018 election is going to be neither free nor fair under these circumstances.”
“What is shocking is how the international community, especially Cambodia’s donors, are essentially giving Hun Sen [a] free pass at each step of this crackdown,” he said.
“It’s time to start considering next steps, which could include donors walking away from this election and contemplating punitive measures that will hit the ruling CPP where it hurts,” Robertson said.
Cambodia’s King Sihamoni, recently back from China and by tradition a balancing voice in Cambodian politics, appears meanwhile to be unable to fill this role, analysts say.
“The former King Sihanouk maintained his influence on politicians because he was a smart king and they had to respect him,” Cambodia-based political commentator Em Sovannara told RFA in an interview.
“Because of this, he could perform his [constitutional] duties.”
“As for our present monarch, he appears to fear the influence and power of the ruling party,” Em Sovannara said.
Reported by Zakariya Tin, Sovannarith Keo, and Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.