An opposition party offer to shelve planned nationwide demonstrations in return for long hoped-for negotiations with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party found no apparent traction among government officials over the weekend.
Speaking to supporters at Cambodia National Rescue Party HQ on Saturday, party spokesman Yim Sovann beseeched the CPP for talks to resolve the slew of legal cases against opposition members, which have prompted the CNRP to threaten mass protests.
“[I] beg the other party: please help to resolve [this] to avoid this leading to mass demonstrations nationwide,” Sovann said, adding he was “frankly . . . afraid” of the consequences of taking to the streets, an outcome the party “did not want”.
“There is no choice, and we don’t know what to do.”
But far from conceding any ground, Prime Minister Hun Sen – who denies widespread accusations of attacking his opponents through a CPP-controlled judiciary – on Saturday dismissed the idea that a political crisis exists at all.
“Cambodia has no internal problem, only Kem Sokha was prosecuted,” the premier wrote on his personal Facebook page, in response to a comment suggesting he reconcile with Sokha and CNRP president Sam Rainsy, both of whom have been sentenced to jail time in cases widely condemned as politically motivated.
Hun Sen – who last week threatened to crack down on any opposition protests with force – also defended the use of the military to “maintain the peace”, comments that follow aggressive statements by top military generals backing his threat.
Sokha, who has been holed up at CNRP HQ to avoid arrest and was earlier this month sentenced to five months in prison in relation to a “prostitution” case against him, also addressed supporters over the weekend, as did Rainsy, who spoke via video link from France, where he remains in self-imposed exile also to avoid prison.
Speaking on Saturday, Sokha highlighted articles in the constitution that permit peaceful demonstrations, while also moving to reassure the government the party didn’t want a “revolution” or “coup”.
“Please lead until the term is finished in 2018,” he said, referring to the next national election.
Appealing for a “fair and equal” environment, Sokha, however, lashed out at the ruling party’s tactics, saying the CPP “cut the head” of the CNRP and “bound its hands and legs”.
“Don’t say that the court case is an individual matter as an excuse, even the kids know, the whole world knows.”
Reached yesterday, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan maintained the party had no control over the courts and would not consider negotiations until cases against opposition members were concluded.
“Forcing the CPP to abandon its position is impossible,” Eysan said.
Other government officials also accused the CNRP of being the instigators of the unrest themselves, including Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong, who recalled the opposition-led protests following the disputed 2013 election.
“They can burn and set a fire but they have no capacity to put it out,” Socheatvong said at the opening of a canal in the capital’s Tuol Kork district on Saturday.
Also weighing in was CPP lawmaker Sar Sokha, the son of Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who spoke to his of Prey Veng province constituents.
“According to . . . my father, the negotiation can happen for the two parties, but for wrongdoers . . . these are matters of legal procedure, therefore allow the law to take care of it,” he said.