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Former Opposition Leader in Japan to Lobby for Open Election

Cambodia’s former opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, is pictured with Cambodian supporters in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Cambodia’s former opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, arrived in Tokyo, Japan this week to lobby the government to press for a free and fair election in July.

Speaking to Japan’s NHK Television upon arrival, Rainsy said he believed Japan had a key role to play in bringing democracy to Cambodia following months of anti-democratic measures taken by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“We will ask Japan, and I think Japan is proceeding in the right way, to ensure that the next election set for 29 July will be free and fair with the participation of the only opposition party that is really credible and viable, which is the CNRP,” he said, referring to the Cambodia National Rescue Party which was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November.

Rainsy added that Japan had strong leverage over Cambodia due to its considerable development assistance and investment.

During talks with Hun Sen on Sunday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono visited Cambodia last week and urged a free and fair election, but did not comment on the government’s actions against the opposition.

“So Japan has understood very well that any election without the participation of the opposition CNRP is meaningless, is useless and will lead to instability,” Rainsy said. “Because any government that would be formed following an illegitimate election, that government will be illegitimate in itself and will have unpredictable consequences on the situation of Cambodia.”

Rainsy is scheduled to meet with Japanese lawmakers, officials of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, the business community, and the Cambodian expatriate community, according to party officials.

The Cambodian government arrested CNRP president Kem Sokha in early September, before the dissolution of his party on November 16 last year and the banning of 118 party officials from politics for five years.

Cambodia is scheduled to hold a national election on July 29 and time is running short for the opposition as the National Elections Committee has required all parties to register by May 14.

Rainsy and the overseas Cambodian community have recently called on voters to boycott the elections if the CNRP cannot participate.

But when he arrived in Japan, Rainsy expressed optimism that the opposition would be able to take part in the election.

“I am still very hopeful,” he said. “Anything can happen in Cambodia anytime given the right environment, given the right support from the international community.”