With an opposition figure having announced his return to the Kingdom next month to “arrest” the prime minister and major tariff-free export agreements under consideration, opinions are divided on the current political situation in Cambodia.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said on Thursday that Cambodia was not facing a political crisis.
“The government was born from elections and is functioning as usual, internally as well as in terms of international cooperation. Although there is rhetoric made by those attempting to topple the monarchy from outside, we are still working as usual,” Siphan said.
As the president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Kem Sokha, remains on court-supervised bail at his home as he faces a charge of treason, the party’s “acting president” Sam Rainsy has said he will return on November 9.
Rainsy, who is living abroad to avoid more than a dozen outstanding court cases, has said he will harness “people power” on his return to arrest Prime Minister Hun Sen. He has also called on the armed forces and the people to rise up against the government.
More than a dozen CNRP supporters have been charged or arrested for “conspiracy” and “plotting” since he made the announcement.
“Any effective solution to Cambodia’s current political crisis must include the organisation in the near future of genuine elections with the participation of the CNRP as the only credible opposition party because there is no democracy without checks and balances,” Rainsy told The Post on Thursday.
The situation comes with the clock ticking on the EU’s decision on whether or not to withdraw access to its “Everything But Arms” agreement.
The EU’s official 12-month withdrawal process, with a six-month grace period, is to conclude in February, with full or partial EBA removal a possibility.
The US House of Representatives this year passed the “Cambodia Democracy Act”, while the Wall Street Journal made baseless accusations regarding a “secret agreement” between Cambodia and China to use the Ream Naval Base in Koh Kong.
“One can say that Cambodia has been in a de facto state of emergency since the crackdown in 2014, except for a brief period of ‘the culture of dialogue’, said political analyst Lao Mong Hay referring to post-election protests in 2014.
“The situation has become a political crisis since the decapitation and dissolution of the CNRP when the country’s leaders were accused of destroying democracy, human rights and the rule of law of a free society,” he said.
Mong Hay said the political order as determined by the Cambodian Constitution no longer existed.
The “win-win” solution now, he said, was to first release Kem Sokha, as doing so would heed the EU’s and US’ main demands when considering keeping Cambodia’s access to EBA and the American Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
“The release of Kem Sokha and the ensuing talks would ease domestic pressure on the government and draw the wind from Sam Rainsy’s campaign for a ‘people power’ uprising if and when he returns,” Mong Hay said.
However, Sok Touch, the president of Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the government must stand firm with the legal action taken and “be ready and dare to walk a hard road” on the possible loss of EBA and GSP.
He said the Kingdom must increase domestic production and have Cambodians, as true patriots, embracing local products.
Cambodia must also be open to fostering closer ties with all countries in the world with which it shared common interests.
“All of these are to avoid Cambodia being used as a pawn to serve the interests of superpowers. We experienced this during the Cold War, and we are now being used as a pawn again,” Touch said.
The Cambodian government was born out of elections every five years, not from a coup. When there was illegal activity, the government didn’t need to talk but only enforce the law.
The government had duties to enforce the law and defend the country’s sovereignty, Touch said. He said the profile of the CNRP and Rainsy has been raised due to the government responding to what Rainsy said.
“The government should just issue a statement saying: ‘The Kingdom of Cambodia practises the rule of law and the royal government does not respond to any court-convicted person,’” Touch said.
Economic analyst Chan Sophal took to Facebook on Wednesday to express his view that the democratic base needed to be further improved by the strengthening institutions, with the rule of law key to building a base for societal development and the responsible practising of political rights.
“Managed democracy is likely to be most realistic in the Cambodian context at a time when security and peace in the medium-term are a must, and especially in the long-term when going against superpowers, to ensure independence and sovereignty following the examples of Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore,” Sophal said.