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Minority Opposition Leader Warns of Unfair Elections

Kem Sokha talks politics on VOA Khmer's 'Hello VOA' program Monday.
Kem Sokha talks politics on VOA Khmer's 'Hello VOA' program Monday.

Minority opposition party leader Kem Sokha has had meetings with election organizations in the US to seek a fair playing field in upcoming local and national elections.

The president of the Human Rights Party is on a trip through the US to build support for his party ahead of commune council elections in 2012 and parliamentary elections in 2013.

In meetings with the International Republican Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy and the US State Department, Kem Sokha said he was concerned the ruling party will seek to silence the opposition ahead of the elections.

Speaking as a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday, Kem Sokha pointed to the court system, which has come under heavy criticism for reported crack downs on government dissidents, as well as the National Election Committee and heavily influenced local media as tools for the Cambodian People's Party in upcoming polls.

“We want them to help achieve free and fair elections,” he said. “The media especially must be equitable, as the media are very vital.”

The CPP exerts strong control over local media, including newspapers and TV and radio broadcasting, he said.

The Human Rights Party holds only three seats in the National Assembly, behind the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party's 26 seats. The CPP holds 90 of 120 seats.

The party held its second congress on Sunday in the US city of Philadelphia, Penn. There, the party established three committees, for foreign public relations, human resources and finance.

“These committees have well-educated people in them, and they can research and help me as party president to apply [their knowledge] to our country,” he said.

Kem Sokha said he had told the party to gather qualified and highly educated supporters to work in Cambodia to help restore the country. It had also recruited supporters from 17 US states to lobby state legislators for Cambodia's interest.

Kem Sokha himself has been called to appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Sept. 6, following breach of trust complaints by ex-staff members of his former NGO, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. The allegations are four years old, when Kem Sokha was the director of the NGO before forming his political party.

Responding to a rumor he could lose his parliamentary immunity in the same way opposition lawmakers Sam Rainsy and Mu Sochua have, Kem Sokha likened the court summons to a political game.

“If they play this, they lose,” he said. “What is the benefit of arresting Kem Sokha, and what is the benefit of jailing Kem Sokha?”