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Premier’s Vietnam Visit Draws Opposition Ire

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (L) and his Cambodian couunterpart Hun Sen (R) talk as they walk to their lunch during the ASEAN Summit at the Prime Minister's Office in Bandar Seri Begawan April 25, 2013.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is scheduled to pay a three-day visit to Vietnam later this week, a move criticized by opposition officials who say the premier should stay in Cambodia to deal with the country’s ongoing political deadlock.

“What is necessary at this time is to solve the political stalemate,” Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said. “If the political crisis cannot be solved, it will cause a social crisis. And if there is a social crisis, it will trigger the country into falling into serious problems that won’t be solvable.”

The opposition is calling for a credible investigation into alleged election fraud in July. Failing that, they want a recall election with an independent government election body, Yim Sovann said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the state visit was meant to strengthen and normalized relations between the two neighbors.

“The controversy in Cambodia is an internal problem,” he said. “It does not affect or influence foreign relations.”

Hun Sen is expected to make high-level visits and to sign trade agreements through 2015, as well as agreements on extradition, education, and security information exchange.

Peter Tan Keo, a political analyst in Boston, said the ruling Cambodian People’s Party is conducting “business as usual,” despite the opposition’s refusal to join in the post-election government.

“We cannot expect the government to shut down completely, because that would be very bad for the country,” he said. “At the same time, the leaders on both sides are strongly encouraged to find a moderate sort of approach to negotiating terms, so that this stalemate can be over with.”

Both sides should negotiate terms and make concessions, he said. “The challenge, however, is that terms set by both parties are extremely demanding, which has made it virtually impossible for either side to meet in the middle.”

Hun Sen seems to be choosing foreign diplomacy over settling the deadlock, he said.

“The trip's timing to Vietnam is a bit curious, to be sure,” he said. “Some might assume that Mr. Hun is making a courtesy visit laced with business and investment ties, particularly in rebuilding public trust via additional development projects and investments, while conspiracy theorists might see it as a threat to the opposition and protesters loyal to them.”

“This reminds me of military tanks that were deployed into the capital during the elections,” he added. “The government said it was for added security, while others thought it was a form of intimidation against the opposition.”