A senior Cambodian opposition figure has called for the world to wake up to a calculated campaign by long-time prime minister Hun Sen to batter the remnants of its democracy ahead of elections next year.
“Democracy in Cambodia is dipping really fast into a big hole. There is no time to wait or waste,” said Mu Sochua from Berlin. After the Cambodian opposition leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested last month, Mu Sochua, his deputy in the Cambodia National Rescue party (CNRP), fled to Germany.
“Whatever Mr Hun Sen wants, he gets. People are so fearful,” she told the Guardian.
In the run-up to July 2018 polls, the government has shuttered radio stations and newspapers, kicked out civil society groups and last week it attempted to dissolve the CNRP, the main opposition party.
Warning of “the death of democracy” under Hun Sen, Mu Sochua said a government-controlled supreme court was likely to rule in his favour against the CNRP. “That will totally destroy and set back democracy, way back,” she said of the lawsuit against her party, which Human Rights Watch has described as a “naked grab for total power”.
“All the elements for building democracy in Cambodia have not just been weakened, but totally put into silence,” she added.
After the south-east Asian nation emerged from years of war, it has worked ostensibly as a democracy since 1993. While government harassment has been widespread, a reasonably free and critical press has survived, as well as functioning elections every five years.
The current crackdown appears motivated by the opposition’s significant and unexpected electoral gains during 2013 national elections, which it very nearly won. Taken aback by the sudden surge, Cambodia began a policy of imprisoning opposition leaders, including Sam Rainsy, the founding president of the CNRP, who is now…