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Still No Deal on Opposition Leader’s Return

Sam Rainsy, leader of an opposition party, sits down for an interview with VOA Khmer, file photo.
Sam Rainsy, leader of an opposition party, sits down for an interview with VOA Khmer, file photo.

Cambodia’s main opposition leader remains in exile abroad facing a raft of criminal charges he says are politically motivated.

No political deal for Sam Rainsy’s return has emerged since 2009. But with commune elections coming closer and closer, pro-democracy advocates say the government and Sam Rainsy need to seek a compromise.

Sam Rainsy is facing up to 10 years in prison, for uprooting demarcation posts near the Vietnamese border and web publishing a border map that government officials said was fraudulent but which the opposition leader said demonstrated encroachment.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said there will be no political deal and that Sam Rainsy’s cases are matters for the courts.

Border issues are particularly sensitive in Cambodia, making a compromise over the charges against Sam Rainsy prickly.

“All of them should shake hands, put the national interests in front of them, work together, understand each other, respect mutual rights, respect the laws,” said Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of the rights group Licadho. “For what? For the foremost national interest. Pushing the country for development. Then people will have better lives, the government will be loved and its reputation will be well-known outside.”

She pointed to other countries where heated rhetoric during an election campaign is put aside after elections, when politicians work together, and she expressed regret that Cambodia’s politicians have conflicts that hurt political stability.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party will be the main contenders in the upcoming elections, but the parties must still work together to bring about development to the country, said Hang Chhaya, director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy.

The current political wrangling shows weaknesses of the country’s internal politics to the outside world, he said. Cambodia must decide whether it wants to be similar to its communist neighbors, Laos and Vietnam, or improve its democratic conventions, he said.

Both said that strong opposition parties are important for checks and balances in a democracy, offering counter-positions to government and corrective action. A strong opposition would strengthen Cambodia’s political state, which has been fragile for a long time, they said.

“I believe that Cambodia can do it if we stop together wearing giant face,” Hang Chhaya said. “That means all parties work together. That’s what the Cambodian people want.”