Embattled former opposition leader sends Khmer New Year letter from prison

Jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha speaks to supporters in June last year. He was arrested in September on charges of treason. Facebook
Jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha speaks to supporters in June last year. He was arrested in September on charges of treason. Facebook

In advance of Khmer New Year, imprisoned former opposition leader Kem Sokha published a letter Wednesday urging democratic change and national reconciliation.

Posted to Sokha’s Facebook page, the letter encourages nonviolent change and harmony amid tensions and what he characterised as a lack of trust in Cambodian politics that threatens national unity.

“Please Cambodian patriots, democracy lovers, those demanding rights and freedom, don’t be hopeless; don’t give up your struggle in demanding a change,” he wrote. “Change must happen non-violently according to real liberal democracy, free, multiparty, and through free, fair, and just elections.”

Sokha was arrested in September on charges of treason, after which the Supreme Court, at the government's request, forcibly dissolved his Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Yet, Sokha said change was inevitable. “Nature shows clearly that ‘Everything always undisputedly changes, even the angel in the old year changes and is replaced by another angel’,” he said, referring to a Khmer belief that on Khmer New Year a new angel replaces the one from the earlier year.

He then urged “all Khmer politicians” to “drop the revenge” and stop regarding Cambodian people as enemies.

“Governing the country by suppression will not make citizen follow you for the whole life,” he wrote. “There is no word for ‘too late’ for Khmers in returning to national reconciliation.”

While former CNRP politicians have called for reconciliation, Prime Minister Hun Sen has ruled out pardons or negotiations with the former opposition party, arguing that he could neither undo nor ignore the Supreme Court’s judgement, which also banned 118 opposition politicians from politics for five years.

Phay Siphan, Council of Ministers spokesperson, said recent developments, including Sokha’s arrest and the dissolution of the CNRP, were simply done in accordance with the law. “It has nothing to do with reconciliation,” he said.

Siphan argued reconciliation in general also provided unfair advantages to those who he said breached the law. “Reconciliation means it gives someone power to not respect the law. I feel that way,” he said. “For myself, I don’t support reconciliation at all. If whoever abuses the law, it is an abuse of law.”