In Cambodia, the lightning resurrection of the opposition

In Cambodia, the lightning resurrection of the opposition


A crowd of white-clad opponents waving flags and marching through the center of Phnom Penh without being disturbed by police: the scene has been unheard of in Cambodia for five years. The country, which is holding municipal elections on Sunday (June 4th), is timidly resuming its multiparty system, which was effectively suspended with the 2017 ban on the main opposition party, the National Rescue Party of Cambodia (PSNC). Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled undividedly since 1985, then brutally disrupted the kingdom’s democratic functioning, fearing that his Cambodian People’s Party (PPC) would be overtaken by his rival in the 2018 legislature.

The campaign, of course, takes place without the participation of the main historical opposition figures. Most, like their leader Sam Rainsy, live in exile as a result of multiple politically motivated court convictions. As their passports were revoked, they were not allowed to travel to their country, including to attend their own trial. Others, such as Kem Sokha, are currently being tried for “treason” in a trial involving 130 personalities, and are cautiously keeping their distance.

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This did not stop smaller opponents from resurrecting an opposition formation, using the legal shell of a former political party created by Sam Rainsy, renaming it the “Candlelight Party” and retaining its old symbol, the candle. Within a few months, it had become structured and established in the Cambodian landscape, to the point where it was able to present candidates in almost all municipalities in the country, including the most remote ones. He has also received the support of many opposition figures, such as trade unionist Rong Chhun, who was released from prison in November 2021 after 16 months in detention, and the monk and human rights activist But Buntenh, known for his network activism. social.

Low chance of success

But the chances of electoral success are slim for the opposition, which is deprived of its charismatic tribunes and has suffered a lot of pressure and intimidation during the campaign. Above all, opponents are divided on the opportunity to participate in these municipal elections, fearing that a bail will be deemed unfair. US-Cambodian human rights activist Seng Theary, one of the main defendants in the giant trial for “treason”, refuses to support the Candlelight Party. “Elections are used by repressive regimes not only to legitimize themselves, but also to last longer. she believes. They also allow them to get detailed information about resistance pockets in the country and then fight them using the stick or the carrot. Β»

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