There is little hope that a “culture of dialogue” will return to Cambodia anytime soon as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) appears unwilling to open discussions with its rivals as long as the government’s various cases against opposition party officials are wending their way through the courts.
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan told RFA listeners during a June 21 call-in show that the talks will remain in limbo until the court cases are settled.
“If the cases of those offenders is over, then we will look into the possibility of negotiations,” he said. “But it has to be done under a condition that does not include negotiations for the release of the people in jail.”
The government is pursuing a number of cases against high-profile opposition party officials and rights workers, drawing widespread condemnation from the international human rights community as well as foreign aid donors, excluding China.
Among those cases is the push by Hun Sen’s government and the ruling CPP to bring Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha before the courts for questioning regarding his alleged affair with a young hairdresser.
That case has seen the arrest of four employees of the human rights group ADHOC and a member of the National Election Commission (NEC), while an arrest warrant was also issued for a U.N. worker. Heavily armed police also attempted to arrest Kem Sokha at CNRP headquarters for failing to appear in court in a pair of cases related to the alleged affair
The case of the Kem Sokha Five is not the only one that is tied up in the Cambodian judicial system. About a dozen opposition party members are imprisoned in Prey Sar including Hong Sok Hour, a member of the senate from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which merged with the Human Rights Party to form the CNRP.
Police arrested Hong Sok Hour in 2015 after he posted comments on social media that claimed an article in the 1979 Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Treaty was meant to dismantle, rather than define, the border between the two countries.
‘It’s politics, and everyone knows it.’
On Wednesday Cambodia’s supreme court denied Hong Sok Hour’s appeal of a lower court decision denying bail.
“No surprise,” he told reporters after the hearing. “It is politics, and everyone knows it.”
When asked if there is a “political solution,” he answered: “Not yet known.”
CNRP President Sam Rainsy has been staying in France or traveling since an arrest warrant was issued for him in November over a 2008 defamation case and he was removed from his office and stripped of his parliamentary immunity. After Sam Rainsy left the country, the CNRP named Kem Sokha its acting president.
The litany of cases, and CPP insistence that they run their course before the party negotiates with the CNRP, makes it unlikely that the two sides will have serious talks anytime soon.
“If there are any changes before the court’s decision, it seems that the CPP will lose face, or that it is proof that what has happened was certainly politically motivated,” said independent analyst Meas Ny. “I think that sometimes the CPP wants to take its time.”
CNRP spokesperson Yim Sovanna told RFA on Wednesday there has been no response from the CPP regarding any resumption of “the culture of dialogue.”
“I have not received any word from the other party,” he said.
“Culture of dialogue” was the tag given to the uneasy political truce Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy forged in the aftermath of 2014’s bloody post-election season and a tense 10-month political standoff.
There are other indications that the government and the CPP have little interest in restarting talks as RFA's Khmer Service has learned that Cambodian authorities are preparing to seek legal action against opposition party officials who they accuse of fraudulently collecting thumbprints on petitions asking King Norodom Sihamoni to intervene in the nation’s political upheaval.
Ministry of Interior spokesman General Khieu Sopheak told reporters that investigators have thoroughly reviewed the 17,000 thumbprints collected by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on petitions seeking the king’s assistance. Thumbprints often take the place of signatures in Cambodia.
The government claims that 88 thumbprints on the petitions came from the same individual, that some thumbprints lacked corresponding names, and that the thumbprints did not come from all 25 of the nation’s provinces.
Khieu Sopheak said the government is looking into charges related to the 88 thumbprints that lacked a corresponding identity, and charges related to presenting fraudulent documents to the king.
He singled out CNRP lawmaker Nhem Ponharith, who is also the current party spokesman, saying that he now faces government scrutiny for leading the group that presented the petition to the king.
“Nhem Ponharith presented the king with the fake thumbprints. He will not go unpunished,” he said. “I will have to leave it up to the court to decide on this.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin and Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.