A coalition of Cambodian-Australian organisations released a statement on Tuesday blasting Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government as “constitutionally illegitimate” and urging a boycott of the upcoming July national elections.
The statement was the product of the three-day World Khmer Conference in Melbourne, which was attended by prominent Cambodian civil society and opposition figures and focused on the future of Cambodia following the 2018 elections, whose result is widely seen as a foregone conclusion.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party – the country’s only viable opposition – was dissolved in September on allegations it was fomenting “revolution”, though little evidence was presented. Party President Kem Sokha was jailed on similarly flimsy “treason” charges.
“Hun Sen’s government is constitutionally illegitimate. This dictatorial regime must end, ideally through free and fair elections,” reads the preamble to the resolution. The resolution calls for the unconditional release of Sokha and other political prisoners, and says elections without the CNRP “should be boycotted”.
The statement also touches on a variety of other critiques of the government, including shortcomings in addressing corruption, workers’ rights and land disputes.
The conference opened on March 31 with statements from Gareth Evans – once called the “father of Cambodia”. As Australian foreign minister, Evans is credited as the architect of the Paris Peace Accords, which ended decades of civil war in Cambodia and were meant to usher in a new era of democracy.
In his opening address, Evans said “the writing was on the wall” in 1993 that Cambodia was not on a path to “true democracy”.
Instead, Hun Sen “absolutely refused to accept” the results of the election, which saw his party place second but did not stop him from maintaining power as “second prime minister”.
Evans added that the international reaction to Hun Sen’s power consolidations – both in the 1990s and today – has been “impossibly limp”.
In an interview following the speech, Evans said it was not “realistic” to expect coordinated sanctions on Cambodia, given that similar human rights violations and worse are happening in “maybe 50 or 60 other countries around the world”. Rather, he urged Cambodians to do what they can domestically.
“As difficult and as impossible as these situations seem, we have seen over and over again: if the will of the majority of the people is sufficiently strong . . . over time it becomes almost impossible for autocratic regimes to resist that,” he said.