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Thai Political Turmoil Could Affect Cambodia, Analysts Say

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, walks with his Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra as they attend ASEAN-UN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, file photo.
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, walks with his Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra as they attend ASEAN-UN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, file photo.

WASHINGTON DC - Political turmoil in Thailand, where protesters have overtaken government buildings and called for the premier there to step down, have sparked concerns in Cambodia that its diplomatic relations with its neighbor could again deteriorate.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen enjoyed close ties after Yingluck was elected. But she is facing immense pressure from violent protests in Bangkok.

Protesters this week entered police headquarters and the Government House, after occupying other ministries, and at least three people were killed in violent clashes between factions and police last week. The demonstrations, by so-called “Yellow Shirt” opposition supporters, erupted after Yingluck approved an amnesty law that could help her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, avoid corruption charges and return to Thailand.

“The governments of Yingluck and Thaksin are close to Hun Sen,” said Lao Mong Hay, an independent political analyst in Phnom Penh. “If the [Thai] opposition takes power, the relationship would be difficult for Hun Sen, who has directly criticized the opposition.”

Meanwhile, the Cambodian opposition is calling for its own anti-government demonstrations Dec. 10 and has called for Hun Sen to step down from a position it says has not been legitimized due to fraudulent elections in July.

“The deeds of the Thai protesters can be communicable to other countries,” Lao Mong Hay said. “Cambodia, which has a political stalemate, apparently would have organized such demonstrations.”

Peter Tan, founder of the Boston-based Global Strategy Asia, told VOA Khmer that he would not speculate on whether the Cambodian and Thai opposition are coordinating their efforts. “But I have seen similarities,” he said.

Both opposition movements have called for their respective premiers to step down, he said.

Supporters of Yingluck’s government and that of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party “have had a long-standing relationship, a very strong relationship,” he said. “So if the opposition, the Yellow Shirts, were to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, my prediction is that the Yellow Shirts and the CPP government would probably not have the strongest, firm relationship.”

Tension between the Yellow Shirt opposition and Cambodia’s ruling government was most evident in a border dispute over land near Preah Vihear temple, a nationalistic flashpoint for both sides that began in 2008 and turned into a protracted military standoff.

Cambodia’s opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, who himself has called for Hun Sen to step down, had reportedly close ties to the former Yellow Shirt government of then-premier Abhisit Vejjajiva.

However, Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University in Phnom Penh, told VOA Khmer that any Thai government is likely to keep ties with Cambodia, which is a major market for Thai goods.

“If Thailand does not try to have a good relationship with Cambodia, this market will be grabbed by Vietnam and China,” he said.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told reporters Tuesday that the Cambodian government is closely watching the events in Thailand, and he warned local media not to create further trouble within Thai politics in their reports.