Cambodia needs a genuine “culture of dialogue” between its political parties to avert a descent into crisis, Monovithya Kem, the daughter of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha and a spokeswoman for the country’s opposition party, told The Diplomat Tuesday in an exclusive interview in Washington D.C. (See: “Interview: Cambodia’s Political Turmoil and Future Prospects“).
In recent weeks, the beating up of two opposition lawmakers and the controversial ousting of Kem Sokha as vice president of the National Assembly has threatened to unravel the uneasy political truce forged between the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) led by Sam Rainsy following a nearly year-long political standoff after general elections in 2013.
But CNRP spokesman Monovithya Kem urged both sides to return to the table and start a genuine culture of dialogue to avoid another protracted crisis that would be damaging for both parties.
“Now is the time for both the ruling party and the opposition to see if we can start a real culture of dialogue. Otherwise, if this continues, it cannot be good for either the opposition or the ruling party; it is damaging for both,” she told The Diplomat.
Describing the unconstitutional removal of Kem Sokha as just the latest sign of the “broken” relationship between the ruling party and the opposition, she called for both parties to return to the table and revisit the terms of the agreement they reached last year which the ruling party had violated. Respecting the agreement, she stressed, should include releasing CNRP members and restoring Kem Sokha to his position.
“The ruling party has to have genuine intention to have dialogue with us and that can start with the July 22 agreement. We have to look over the agreement and the ruling party has to start respecting the agreement again,” she said.
Noting that Cambodia’s ruling party has been known to “test the water” to see how far it can push and get away with such transgressions, she expressed confidence that strength from the opposition and support from the international community would thwart further moves.
“If the CNRP shows its strength and international community – specifically the donor community – fulfills its obligation to Cambodia, I don’t believe that the ruling party will have the space to push this any further,” she said.
She also reiterated her call for an international investigation led by the United Nations into the beating of the parliamentarians – who were dragged out from their vehicles and assaulted while on their way to a legislative meeting October 26 – amid “obvious evidence” of a direct link between the attackers and Hun Sen as well as his son. Though Cambodian authorities have apprehended suspects following Hun Sen’s public call for their arrest, she said this was insufficient since it did not focus on who was behind it.
“The investigation cannot stop at the arrest of a few attackers who are put behind bars; the investigation has to also focus on the links: who is behind them; who ordered them. This is not random; this is an organized attack,” she stressed.
As the country looks ahead to commune elections in 2017 and general elections in 2018, she encouraged national and international observers alike to ensure that Cambodia has a free and fair election and that there is a peaceful transfer of power in case the opposition wins in 2018.
“Actually the recent harassment from the ruling party is a sign of their fear of losing the next election. So we need to start thinking now what the CNRP can do, what the international community and donor community can do, to ensure there will be a peaceful transfer of power,” she said.
As for the country’s political parties, she said the focus should be on starting again with genuine dialogue and building trust, which requires will from both sides.
“From the Cambodian side, we can start again with dialogue, but it has to be genuine dialogue. We need to start building trust. And the ruling party has not made that easy by arresting our members, by inflicting violence on us. It’s not really trust. They’re doing the opposite of what we are trying to do,” she said.