Ally Says Cambodia Opposition Chief is Seeking Political Solution to Standoff
Kem Sokha is working to convince the ruling party to normalize politics after a three-year deadlock.
Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha is trying to convince Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party to discuss a political solution to the country’s prolonged political stalemate, a top official with the banned opposition party said Friday.
More than three years after Kem Sokha was arrested and his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was banned by courts loyal to Hun Sen, he is working to convince the ruling party to return to the negotiation table to discuss national reconciliation and has asked other countries for help, the Kem Sokha ally said.
“We have asked for the international community intervention in order for the disputed parties to be able to talk,” said Suon So Rida, a former CNRP lawmaker and Kem Sokha loyalist, told RFA. “We can’t allow any situations that can lead to revenge or our strategy will fail.”
Kem Sokha is working on three major facets of his plan for national reconciliation, Suon So Rida said, including meeting with diplomats whose countries are signatories to the Paris Peace Accords that ended years of war and helped set up a democratic country in Cambodia to ensure they uphold the pact.
Political commentator Em Sovannara said Kem Sokha has maintained his widespread popularity because he will not request political rehabilitation and is committed to nonviolent means. He urged the CNRP to draw more international support for its push for a political resolution.
“[International support] will give the opposition party political bargaining strength without which the opposition party has been unable to fight for justice until now,” he said.
But another analyst, Kim Sok, said the CNRP’s soft approach to dealing with the CPP won’t benefit the opposition party.
“The CPP and Hun Sen’s family have been controlling Cambodia under many parliament mandates because of the soft approach policy [of the opposition party] until the government disbanded the party and persecuted its members from top to bottom,” he said. “The democrats can’t stand up now.”
Suon So Rida said that Kem Sokha is doing what he can to move forward.
“Any talks must ensure that both parties understand each other, because if we incite Cambodians to take revenge on each other, we won’t reach the talks,” he said.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017 and barred its members from taking part in political activities, two months after the arrest of Kem Sokha for his role in an alleged scheme to topple Hun Sen’s government.
The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for the CPP to win all 125 parliamentary seats in the country’s 2018 general election.
Kem Sokha was put on trial beginning in January 2020 but the hearings were suspended two months later on the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic. Hun Sen has hinted that the trial may not resume for years, and may not conclude until 2024, long after the next election cycle.
In the meantime, Kem Sokha remains under judicial supervision pending the outcome of his trial, and must refrain from engaging in political activities within Cambodia, though he met with the European Union’s ambassador to the Southeast Asian nation, at his residence on May 4.
Kem Sokha has met with Hun Sen only once — in May 2020 — since the CNRP was disbanded, Suon So Rida said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.