Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy is urging U.S. President Barack Obama to cancel his visit to Phnom Penh next month for a regional summit, on the grounds that would provide legitimacy to the rule of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Writing in The New York TimesI
, Rainsy slammed the government of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985. Rainsy is viewed as the prime minister's main rival; he lives in self-imposed exile to escape charges he says are politically motivated.
Rainsy says Hun Sen is trying to use next month's regional summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
to garner legitimacy ahead of parliamentary elections next year. He suggests the meeting of world leaders be moved to another country.
Rainsy added that Cambodians with "a record of opposition to Hun Sen are in dread of the period right after Obama’s scheduled visit," when they fear politically motivated prosecution by Hun Sen's allies.
The 63-year-old opposition leader wrote that the political coalition he heads (the Cambodian National Rescue Party), will boycott the July 2013 elections, because the group "refuses to validate such a bogus exercise."
Rainsy says his coalition, formed in August, has enough support to win a "free and fair election." But he says the "minimum requirement for proper elections next year is that the National Election Committee be reformed" to become independent. The committee is currently dominated by members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party.
In the newspaper article, which also was published by The International Herald Tribune
, Rainsy called on the "free world" to "seize the opportunity presented by Cambodia's elections" and compel Hun Sen to "play by democratic rules." If this does not happen, and if the ASEAN summit is not moved, Rainsy said the leader of the "world's standard-bearer of democracy," President Obama, should not visit Cambodia.
Hun Sen, who is 61, has vowed to stay in power until he is 90. His government is regularly accused of suppressing political freedoms and mistreatment of rights campaigners.
Describing what he expects to be a post-ASEAN summit crackdown on dissent in Cambodia, Rainsy recalled that a prominent activist, radio station owner Mam Sanondo, was arrested shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Cambodia earlier this year for another ASEAN meeting.
Rainsy, who faces 11 years in prison for various charges, lives in exile. He has vowed to return to Cambodia to help opposition efforts for the 2013 election; the government, in turn, has promised he will face jail time if he does.
Some information for this report provided by AFP.