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Cambodia’s Opposition Seeking Support for Free and Fair Elections

Opposition leader of Cambodia National Rescue Party Sam Rainsy, center, delivers a speech next to his Deputy President Kem Sokha, right, during a gathering to mark Human Rights Day, in front of National Assembly, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, file photo.

Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are visiting Japan this week, calling on support for improved democracy in Cambodia through free and fair elections.

Cambodia’s opposition leaders are visiting Japan this week, calling on support for improved democracy in Cambodia through free and fair elections.

The visit of Sam Rainsy, the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and Kem Sokha, the party’s vice president, coincides with the long-awaited election in Myanmar, which Aung San Suu Kyi and her party are expected to win.

In recent weeks, meanwhile, two Cambodian opposition lawmakers were severely beaten outside the National Assembly and Kem Sokha was ousted as Assembly vice president via a unilateral vote by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

At a news conference in Japan on Tuesday, Sam Rainsy warned against political tensions in Cambodia ahead of its elections, scheduled for 2017 and 2018, according to Kem Sokha’s official Facebook page.

“We called on the international community, especially Japan, to ease the tension to be normal regarding the political agreement on July 22, 2014, in order to ensure a free, fair and democratic election,” Sam Rainsy said, adding that accountability and an independent investigation of the attacks on lawmakers should also be addressed.

Sam Rainsy was referring to political dialogue that began in 2014, following a nearly yearlong boycott of government by the opposition, which claimed the 2013 elections had been marred by irregularities. This year, the two sides agreed on the formation of a new National Election Committee.

But their relations have deteriorated in recent months, following sharp criticism by some opposition lawmakers of the CPP’s handling of contentious border issues with Vietnam.

Since then, opposition activists and officials have been jailed, two opposition lawmakers assaulted, and Kem Sokha removed from his Assembly post. Human Rights Watch has said the assaults were reminiscent of the CPP’s treatment of the opposition in the political violence of the 1990s.

Sam Rainsy, meanwhile, told reporters in Japan that he wants the international community to use its “leverage” to insist on democratic elections and “not be complacent, even lenient, with [Prime Minister] Hun Sen.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed the claims of the opposition leaders as “complaining,” saying, “There is no political tension.”

“Calling for support from foreign countries is the habit of the opposition party, which is contradictive to the Cambodian will,” he said.