Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Japan pushes CNRP dialogue



Japan pushes CNRP dialogue

Kentaro Sonoura, adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, meets with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday about the possibility of opening negotiations with the dissolved CNRP. Facebook
Kentaro Sonoura, adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, meets with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday about the possibility of opening negotiations with the dissolved CNRP. Facebook

Japan pushes CNRP dialogue

An adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested initiating negotiations between the government and the now-dissolved opposition in a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday, an official said, a suggestion welcomed by former opposition members but rejected by a government spokesman on Sunday.

Japan has remained one of Cambodia’s few democratic allies since the November dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the nation’s only viable opposition – which prompted some countries to impose visa restrictions, and the US and EU to pull funding for the National Election Committee, which Japan has not.

Following the meeting on Friday, Sry Thamrong, an adviser to Hun Sen, said that Japanese emissary Kentaro Sonoura had suggested, as a friend, the ruling party open up to negotiations with the former CNRP.

“If we make it short, it was about the possibility of negotiation or dialogue between the prime minister and those who were banned from political rights,” he said, referring to the 118 senior CNRP members suspended from participating in politics for five years.

The so-called culture of dialogue between the opposition and ruling party began in 2014 when Hun Sen and former opposition leader Sam Rainsy reached an agreement to end the opposition’s nearly yearlong boycott of parliament following the disputed 2013 national election.

The dialogue quickly soured, however, with the ruling party accusing the opposition of being too critical. In late 2015, Rainsy was forced into self-imposed exile by the resurrection of an old legal case, and the following year, his successor, Kem Sokha, was forced into de facto house arrest over a criminal case involving a purported mistress and his failure to appear for a court summons.

He was later pardoned, and both parties continued to make occasional references to the culture of dialogue until early 2017, but interactions between the two parties were held to a minimum.

Since then, however, relations have only gotten worse, with Sokha jailed last September over accusations of “treason”, the party dissolved, its members banned from politics and some compelled to flee the country for fear of arrest and intimidation. Rainsy, who remains in self-imposed exile, was also recently slapped with a court complaint accusing him of “treason”.

At the end of December last year, the premier had pledged to “stop talking” about the CNRP, but has since proven unable or unwilling to, repeatedly accusing them of threatening the country’s “peace and stability”.

Mu Sochua, a former deputy president of the CNRP, lauded the suggestion of negotiations in a message on Sunday.

“CNRP unequivocally welcomes Japan’s role in the restart of the culture of dialogue,” she said. “We ask that key signatories join Japan to witness and to serve as guarantor to the dialogue.”

Rainsy, who was forced to leave the CNRP by controversial legal amendments in March last year, agreed. “I continue to believe in the culture of dialogue when it is sincerely implemented, meaning without threat or bullying,” he said in an email.

But Phay Siphan, Council of Ministers spokesperson, rejected the suggestion and argued that the CNRP had been dissolved by a Supreme Court ruling, making dialogue impossible.

“A culture of dialogue can’t overrule the rule of law,” he said.

Siphan added that given the CNRP’s longstanding criticism of the so-called “culture of impunity” engendered by Cambodia’s oft-maligned courts, they of all people should heed a Supreme Court ruling.

He also said Rainsy had “abused” the previous culture of dialogue by continuously raising new issues for the parties to address, an allegation Rainsy rejected.

“I deplore the fact that Hun Sen takes everything personally,” he said in an email. “Maybe he does it as a pretext to kill a starting dialogue that could lead to a compromise opening the way for a democratic change. To show statesmanship we have to put aside our personal feelings and concentrate on the national interest.”

Political analyst Ou Virak also approved the suggestion.

“I welcome the call and I don’t see why not,” he said in a message.

“One of the major strengths of the prime minister is to always strike the right balance between control and keeping some sort of international and domestic legitimacy. I am sure he would understand that a certain compromise that would bring about legitimacy to the upcoming election would contribute to stability.”

The Japanese Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Kingdom one of safest to visit in Covid-19 era’

    The Ministry of Tourism on January 12 proclaimed Cambodia as one of the safest countries to visit in light of the Kingdom having been ranked number one in the world by the Senegalese Economic Prospective Bureau for its success in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In rankings

  • Kingdom accepts Chinese vaccine, PM first to get jab

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said China would offer Cambodia an immediate donation of one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Sinopharm company. In an audio message addressing the public on the night of January 15, he said Cambodia has accepted the offer and

  • Reeling in Cambodia’s real estate sector

    A new norm sets the scene but risks continue to play out in the background A cold wind sweeps through the streets of Boeung Trabek on an early January morning as buyers and traders engage in commerce under bright blue skies. From a distance, the

  • PM asks India for vaccine help

    Prime Minister Hun Sen is seeking assistance from India for the provision of Covid-19 vaccines as the country has produced its own vaccine which is scheduled to be rolled out to more than 300 million Indians this year. The request was made during his meeting with

  • Cambodia, India agree to start direct flights, tourism exchanges

    Cambodia and India have agreed to start direct flight connections and promote closer tourism exchanges and cooperation in all areas after the Covid-19 saga comes to a close. The agreement was reached during a meeting between Cambodian Minister of Tourism Thong Khon and newly-minted Indian

  • One million Chinese Covid-19 jabs to start rolling in from February

    The government has confirmed that Covid-19 vaccines from China are set to begin arriving in Cambodia by February. This came as the Ministry of Health recorded two imported cases of Covid-19 on January 18. While calling on people to remain vigilant against the pandemic, ministry spokeswoman