Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has written a letter to the European Commission ahead of the visit of an EU “Everything But Arms” delegation this week.
Rainsy wrote to Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on Friday urging the EU to hold firm in “restoring” democracy in Cambodia.
“In particular, it must push for the reinstatement of the only credible opposition party, namely the CNRP, and the release of its leader, Kem Sokha,” he said in the letter.
Rainsy has previously made five demands. On top of the two outlined in the letter to Mogherini, he has also called for fresh national elections with the participation of the CNRP – who were barred from last year’s polls – the reinstatement of political rights for the party’s banned senior officials and their return to the positions they held before the party’s dissolution.
Senior officials from the European External Action Service and the EU Directorate-General for Trade are due to pay a two-day visit to the Kingdom on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the review and monitoring process included in the EBA withdrawal procedure, which was launched last month.
The European Commission has cited serious human rights violations and a backsliding of democracy as being behind their decision to start the EBA withdrawal process.
The EU’s unilateral preferential EBA scheme gives least developed status countries duty and tariff free imports to the 28-nation bloc. It is reported to be worth $676 million annually to Cambodia.
Rainsy also took to a geopolitics online platform to voice his concerns on Friday.
“The best solution for Cambodia is to avoid the ending of its EBA access and the serious damage the economy would suffer [as a result]. This can be done by releasing Kem Sokha, reinstating the CNRP and publishing a timetable for prompt and genuine elections,” he wrote.
He said there was still time for the EBA withdrawal to be avoided, but genuine change in the government’s mentality was urgently needed.
“The two demands would mean the return to the status quo ante [the status quo prior to the dissolution of the CNRP], and it would be very difficult for the government to heed them. The government may heed the first demand, the release of Kem Sokha [from his treason charge],” political analyst Lao Mong Hay said.
Sokha, CNRP president and the party’s co-founder along with Rainsy, was arrested in September 2017 and charged with treason for allegedly colluding with the US to overthrow the government.
US-based analyst Sok Sakoun was of the view that a likely outcome could include Sokha’s charge being dropped and the rehabilitation of the remaining 113 CNRP officials still banned from politics. But a demand to reinstate the CNRP would eventually fade away.
Cindy Cao, a European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) researcher, said there was a risk Rainsy’s letter could give the impression that the EU supported particular groups over others.
“I think the EU’s support of democracy is not about supporting particular leaders or parties, but about upholding neutral institutional rules and human rights.”
She said the situation in Cambodia appeared to be more of an inter-elite struggle for power rather than a political competition between groups with different ideas.
In this context, if the EU was believed to be siding with one party or another, it would be a stumbling block on the road to “achieving democratisation”, Cao said.
She continued that avoiding the withdrawal of Cambodia’s access to EBA should be Cambodian leaders’ common goal if they care for their country and its people. The EU had welcomed a number of positive steps, including the amendment to the Law on Political Parties to allow banned politicians to re-enter politics, Cao added.
“The best approach for Sam Rainsy would be to reciprocate concessions as part of a bargaining dynamic to resolve the impasse and avoid the worst-case scenario,” she said.