Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy has called for a boycott of the upcoming elections if the Cambodia National Rescue Party is not reinstated before the July ballot – the first clear call from the opposition for voters to stay away from the polls.
The call follows the November dissolution of the CNRP, Cambodia’s main opposition party, as well as the jailing of its leader Kem Sokha and the barring of 118 of its senior officials from politics for five years.
In self-imposed exile to avoid a slew of politically tinged convictions, Rainsy founded the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) along with other ex-CNRP officials in January to call for the release of Sokha and the party’s reinstatement.
In an email, Rainsy claimed that the decision to boycott had been reached by both members of the CNRM and CNRP, who called for voters and election monitors not to participate in the elections.
“We have to make things very clear now. It would be a disservice to render to the nation and to democracy to participate in a meaningless election that is only intended to legitimize and to perpetuate a dictatorship,” he said.
He added that were the CPP to win a boycotted July election, it would further undermine the party’s legitimacy and increase the risk of instability.
“It is better to postpone that falsely ‘national’ election set for July 29, 2018, rather than to hold at all costs a meaningless and unacceptable election with unpredictable consequences [for the government],” he said.
If the CNRP is not reinstated, he said, the CNRM could appeal for peaceful protests, ask workers to go on strike and call for the armed forces to side with the people instead of the government.
The government has said definitively that there is no chance of a reprieve for the opposition, which regardless would need to precede the May 14 deadline for a political party and its candidates to register.
The CNRP took more than 3 million votes, or 44 percent of the registered electorate, in the 2013 national elections, putting up a similar percentage in last year’s commune elections, where it won 489 council chief positions – the best performance ever by an opposition party in the local elections.
While former party Deputy President Mu Sochua supported Rainsy’s call, saying the CPP’s “worst nightmare” would be low voter turnout, former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath said he would assess the situation in a few weeks before commenting on the boycott call.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the former opposition leader no longer resonated with the Cambodian voters and that his election boycott call would only spark anger among Cambodians. “They are happy heading towards Khmer New Year and are going forward with the coming elections. So, why will they follow his appeal?” he said.
Political commentator Lao Mong Hay, however, said he had travelled across the country and found that some people feel their ballot is now worthless.
“So if Sam Rainsy’s message could get across to the electorate, I think many voters would positively respond to his appeal,” he said.