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Cambodia Teetering on the Edge of Chaos: Analysts


Cambodian Vice President of the National Assembly Kem Sokha, also vice president of Cambodia National Rescue Party, foreground, delivers a speech during a Buddhist ceremony to mark 18th anniversary in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, March 30, 2015.

Cambodian Vice President of the National Assembly Kem Sokha, also vice president of Cambodia National Rescue Party, foreground, delivers a speech during a Buddhist ceremony to mark 18th anniversary in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, March 30, 2015.

The comments came as the CNRP announced it was ready to organize mass protests in response to the attempted arrest of its deputy leader, Kem Sokha.

Social and political analysts have called for renewed political dialogue between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party amid a tense political standoff.

Speaking to VOA Khmer last week, the analysts warned of serious social and political upheaval if the current instability persisted.

The comments came as the CNRP announced it was ready to organize mass protests in response to the attempted arrest of its deputy leader, Kem Sokha, who went into hiding late last week.

Kem Sokha faces a contentious defamation case involving allegations he procured the services of a "prostitute."

“The party will use the right to stage a non-violent demonstration in case Kem Sokha, acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is arrested,” a party statement released on Friday said.

Pou Sovachana, a researcher with the Cambodian institute of Cooperation and Peace, told VOA Khmer that the current standoff had caused divisions and was damaging to the national interest.

Only King Norodom Sihamoni was in a position to end the dispute, he added.

“I think that the king, if he understands and is willing to solve the problem, he should call the leaders of the two parties to sit and talk to each other in order to discuss and offer mutual understanding for our national interest, because the divisions are growing,” he said.

On Thursday, armed police attempted to arrest Sokha on the capital’s Norodom Boulevard, however, the CNRP leader was not in his car when the operation was launched.

The attempted arrest came after Sokha had refused to appear in court to answer questions related to a defamation case and allegations he used a prostitute.

CNRP activists said they would do what they could to prevent Sokha’s arrest, arguing that he still holds immunity from prosecution under laws governing parliament.

Meas Ny, a social development researcher, said that the only reasonable solution to the standoff was for independently convened talks.

“If the leaders understand that what they are doing is harmful to social stability, honor, and the reputation of the country, but they still keep doing it, I think that it’s difficult to say. But if they think that this is too much and should turn to reconcile and work with each other, this is good,” he said.

The CNRP also called for talks in its statement on Friday.

The party “will continue to use the culture of dialogue to be a base for restoring the situation in order to bring back normalcy, ensuring that the elections in 2017 and 2018 would be conducted freely, with fairness, and justice,” it said.

While the ruling party has welcomed previous calls for a return to the so-called culture of dialogue, which ended a yearlong parliamentary boycott by the CNRP in 2014, recently the CPP has said it would require a precondition that the release of party members and supporters from jail would not be discussed.

Heng Sreang, a social researcher, predicted a return to levels of violence seen in the 1990s, when Cambodia was in the final throws of civil war and violence against opposition rallies was commonplace and led to numerous deaths and disappearances.

“In Cambodia, from 1996, 1997 and 1998, tension erupted. There were mass movements of people going on demonstrations and protesters were arrested… it was similar [to today’s situation],” he said.

Heng Sreang, however, said the king could not act as a neutral force to mediate the dispute and suggested the best mediator would be the United Nations, a possibility the ruling CPP has all but ruled out.

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