Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said the release of opposition members and activists last week did not mean the Cambodia National Rescue Party would be allowed to form an official party or that its officials would get back their commune positions.
The prime minister was speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh when he said former CNRP officials would not be allowed to get back their commune positions, adding that former commune chiefs and councilors believed that this would be the next step in the government’s easing of a crackdown on the political opposition.
“We heard they claimed with certainty that they would [again] become village chiefs, district chiefs and so on, and that they would also be compensated,” said Hun Sen. “No, that’s not the case.”
He said the commune councils and National Assembly will complete their current mandates in 2022 and 2023, respectively, indicating there will not be any elections before those dates.
The CNRP was dissolved in November 2017 and the 5,007 commune seats it won during the last local elections was redistributed among other political parties, with almost all council positions going to the Cambodian People’s Party.
Last week, Hun Sen directed court officials to release opposition members and activists to be released from prison. Most of them had been arrested in the last few months for allegedly aiding in plotting a so-called coup led by opposition party Sam Rainsy, who was attempting to return to Cambodia on November 9.
Hun Sen added that being released from prison on bail did not equate to “freedom”, a thinly-veiled reference to opposition leader Kem Sokha’s long-drawn treason investigation that ended on November 10 after more than two years.
“Please remember that the procedure does not take one or two days or one or two months. It takes time,” Hun Sen said. “And there are those who said the King would soon pardon them. But the trial has not started, how can the King pardon them?”
The release of CNRP members also followed the completion of a preliminary European Union Commission report that could lead to the suspension of the ‘Everything But Arms’ trade privileges. The economic bloc has put the country on notice for systematic human rights violations, which are in contravention to safeguards included in the trade privileges agreement.
Am Sam Ath, a senior staffer at rights group Licadho, said allowing former CNRP officials to get their positions would mean the reformation of the opposition, and that the prime minister’s comments indicated that this scenario was not possible.