Democracy without competition? The fall & rise of Cambodia’s opposition



Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Thursday he was ready to go to jail or die for the cause of restoring democracy in Cambodia, vowing to return home on Nov. 9 in the face of threats by “brutal dictator” Hun Sen. In a Facebook video statement, the acting president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), appealed to the world to “please have Cambodia in your thoughts on that day” when he faces down the strongman who has ruled the Southeast Asian country since 1985, RFA reports.

Since Mr. Rainsy’s return was announced in August, Cambodian authorities have launched a fresh crackdown on members of the outlawed party, the Post adds. 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.

In his 34-year effort to transform Cambodia’s democracy into a dictatorship, Prime Minister Hun Sen has systematically dismantled the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Now, with the economy in severe danger, the CNRP’s exiled leaders are preparing to return to their country and defend Cambodians’ rights and freedoms, notes Rainsy. Cambodia is undoubtedly capable of nonviolent conflict resolution. Unlike many other former European colonies, we achieved independence peacefully, through a negotiated agreement. With genuine political will on all sides, that success can be repeated today, he writes for Project Syndicate:

Human Rights Watch

This requires, first and foremost, the release of Kem Sokha, the reinstatement of the CNRP, and a (relatively short) timetable for a free and fair national election. But, far from supporting a peaceful resolution to Cambodia’s political and economic crisis, Hun Sen has promised to sever the fingers of anyone who flashes the “nine fingers” sign in support of our return, and to arrest anyone who comes to greet us. In that case, he will probably need a jail with space for at least a million people – and perhaps many more. But Cambodians should not be left to resist Hun Sen’s regime on their own.

The regime has been strangling the entire political opposition, as well as labor unions, NGOs (including the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy), and every other institution comprising Cambodian civil society, analyst Martha Bayles observed.

“All friends of Cambodia, especially the 18 signatory countries of the Paris Peace Agreements, must do everything in their power to dissuade Cambodia’s dictator from using violence against his own people, simply for claiming rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by international treaty,” Rainsy adds.

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