Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian government comes under fire in Australia

Cambodian government comes under fire in Australia

Mu Sochua (right) poses with former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans during a forum on Cambodia’s political situation in Canberra on Friday. Facebook
Mu Sochua (right) poses with former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans during a forum on Cambodia’s political situation in Canberra on Friday. Facebook

Cambodian government comes under fire in Australia

The widow of slain political analyst Kem Ley on Sunday called for protesters to join her in demonstrating against Prime Minister Hun Sen when he visits Australia later this week, with exiled opposition figure Mu Sochua telling an audience in Canberra on Friday that it was “not too late” for her party to return and compete in the July national election.

Hun Sen is scheduled to visit Australia in the coming days for an Asean-Australia summit, a visit that has already sparked demonstrations among the Cambodian diaspora there. The premier had previously promised to “beat” any would-be protesters burning his image during the visit, prompting Cambodians both in Australia and the US to burn photos and effigies.

In a short video posted to Facebook on Sunday, Bou Rachana – the widow of revered political analyst Kem Ley who was granted asylum in Australia – added her voice to the calls for protests against Hun Sen.

“I would like to invite Cambodian brothers and sisters in Sydney to do a protest with me on Friday and Saturday,” Rachana said in the clip.

Her husband was killed in a daylight assassination in 2016, widely believed to be politically motivated.

On Friday, speaking at an event titled “Cambodia on the Brink” in Australia’s capital, self-exiled opposition deputy leader Mu Sochua said that if she were Prime Minister Hun Sen, she “would be brave” enough to ask her and her opposition colleagues, self-exiled former leader Sam Rainsy and jailed party head Kem Sokha, to compete in the upcoming election.

“If I were Hun Sen, I would want to be a legit government of my people … or I would want to find a way out with dignity,” she said, adding her party has considered an amnesty law for Hun Sen in the past and may do so again.

Effigies of Hun Sen are burned in Melbourne on Saturday. Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry has called for Australia to guarantee Hun Sen’s ‘dignity’ is respected, despite Hun Sen previously vowing to beat Australian protesters. Facebook
Effigies of Hun Sen are burned in Melbourne on Saturday. Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry has called for Australia to guarantee Hun Sen’s ‘dignity’ is respected, despite Hun Sen previously vowing to beat Australian protesters. Facebook

Sochua’s Cambodia National Rescue Party – the nation’s only viable opposition – was forcibly dissolved in November following Sokha’s arrest amid an ongoing clampdown on dissent that saw independent media outlets shuttered and the space for civil society and freedom of expression shrink.

In Canberra, Sochua suggested “reconciliation” with the ruling party was possible and expressed hopes of resurrecting a “dialogue”.

“And if we were to go, and we hope to compete in 2018, it’s not too late,” she said. “We can go home tomorrow; we can go home in two weeks. But we cannot go home 10 days before the 2018 election.”

Rainsy was permitted to return to Cambodia from a previous stint of self-imposed exile just days before the 2013 election after a stretch in exile.

Sochua went on to call for targeted sanctions that would impact the ruling elite but not disadvantage the Cambodian people.

Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said while it might appear unlikely that the CNRP would be re-established and allowed to compete, it wasn’t impossible.

“So far there's been little indication that Hun Sen will allow a CNRP revival before the election, but in Cambodian politics it's unwise to totally rule anything out,” he said.

Political analyst Ou Virak, meanwhile, said “the potential lack of legitimacy is risky”, and added that Hun Sen might grant a last minute concession “if that would guarantee two things: the CPP will win and there's legitimacy in the outcome”.

“I think he has the motivation to win in the election that would be seen as more legitimate in the eyes of the international community and more importantly the Cambodian people,” he said in a message.

“Also, not giving people a peaceful way to express themselves is not a formula for stability.”

Meanwhile, at Friday’s forum, Professor Gareth Evans – a former Australian foreign minister and a key negotiator of the Paris Peace Agreements that ended Cambodia’s civil war – said the world’s response to the ruling party’s oppression was “impossibly limp”.

“Cambodia’s government has been getting away with murder,” Evans said in a speech, recalling an opinion piece he wrote and published in The Post four years ago. “It is time for Cambodia’s political leaders to be named, shamed, investigated, and sanctioned by the international community. That remains my position today.”

Additional reporting by Niem Chheng

MOST VIEWED

  • LPG gas explosion injures 13 people, including foreigners, in Siem Reap

    An explosion on Wednesday at a liquid petroleum gas (LPG) car and tuk-tuk refuelling station in Siem Reap city has left 13 people, including an American and a Briton, suffering burns. The seven most severely burned, including a provincial police officer, were sent to a Thai

  • Over 100 Chinese nationals to be deported for online scam

    The Ministry of Interior is planning to deport 128 Chinese nationals after they were arrested in Preah Sihanouk province on Wednesday for their alleged involvement in an online money extortion scam. Y Sokhy, the head of the Department of Counter-terrorism and Transnational Crime, told The Post

  • More than 800 people test positive for HIV in 2018

    The National Aids Authority (NAA) said more than 800 people tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) last year, joining over 76,000 others aged between 15 and 49 in the Kingdom already infected with the virus. The spread of HIV/AIDS in the Kingdom is showing few signs of

  • Rainsy vow to return on Nov 9 dismissed as ‘political warfare’

    An announcement from the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that its “acting president” Sam Rainsy would return to the Kingdom on November 9 was dismissed on Sunday as “political warfare”. The CNRP made the announcement on Friday after a permanent committee meeting chaired by