Threats of Jail, Walkout Put Cambodia Truce on Shaky Ground

By Prak Chan Thul 20 January 2015

PHNOM PENH — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen took a swipe at the country’s opposition on Monday and threatened its lawmakers with jail, accusing it of breaching terms of a political truce that now looks increasingly precarious.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) renewed threats of an another parliamentary boycott after Hun Sen urged the judiciary to expedite trials of 19 CNRP members charged with insurrection, among them seven lawmakers.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and bitter rival CNRP, which has support from trade unions and urban voters and poses the biggest threat to the 30-year reign of the self-styled “strongman,” had agreed to a truce in July.

“I appeal to the court to hold trial as soon as possible, I would like to say: You have not escaped yet,” Hun Sen said during a school ceremony on Monday.

“The seven lawmakers still face jail time.”

They are accused of insurrection for trying to forcibly reopen “Freedom Park” which was closed last January following demonstrations aimed at toppling Hun Sen. The park had been the only place where protests were legally allowed.

CNRP boycotted parliament from mid 2013-2014 in protest at what it said was a rigged election. It rattled Hun Sen’s administration by orchestrating rallies and factory strikes, some of which turned violent.

It returned to the house last year, in exchange for more legislative power and equal seats on the election commission, but despite the “new culture of dialogue” both sides recently hailed, most analysts have been skeptical.

Hun Sen on Monday accused CNRP of breaking the truce by launching personal attacks on him. Opposition heavyweight Mu Sochua said they were within their rights as the government was not honoring its end of the bargain.

“CNRP asked the government to solve the nation’s issues,” Mu Sochua, one of the indicted lawmakers, told Reuters. “If issues are becoming more serious without resolution, we’ve already said, we may walk out of parliament.”

Political expert Sophal Ear said it was clear the truce was in jeopardy and Hun Sen was now using familiar tactics.

“A culture of dialogue is breaking down and giving way to a culture of threats and impunity,” Sophal Ear said.

“You can see the strategy already… and what you have is essentially the threat of imprisonment in order to control people better.”