Mass trial of opposition members . . .
Last Thursday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court began a mass trial of approximately 136 politicians and activists affiliated with the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), banned by the current government in 2017. Several experts believe that the CNRP was banned due to the political threat it posed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has been in power since 1985 and swept all parliamentary seats in the 2018 general election. Those currently on trial have been charged with incitement and treason and face decades-long prison sentences if convicted.
A grim future for the CNRP . . .
Over the weekend, several prominent CNRP members in exile attempted to return to Cambodia to demand a fair trial. It appears, however, that Hun is employing a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy by preventing the exiled party members from returning to Cambodia while using intimidation tactics to dissuade affiliates still residing in the country from continuing their political activities. This will surely weaken the opposition movement, especially as those in exile will not be able to rally domestic support. Even if Hun pardons the CNRP members standing trial, it is unlikely that the party will be able to launch an effective campaign before the next general election slated for 2023.
Cambodia increasingly reliant on China’s support . . .
Since 2010, China has been Cambodia’s largest donor of foreign aid. But recently, Cambodia seems to have made attempts to diversify its trade partners and reduce its reliance on China by negotiating free trade agreements with Japan and the U.S. However, Hun’s dictatorial tactics, including the mass trial, granting himself state-of-emergency powers, and a subsequent crackdown on freedom of speech, have alienated Western democracies. The EU and the U.S. have responded to the violation of democratic principles and concerns over human rights violations by suspending access to duty-free trade and imposing sanctions on several Cambodian business people and officials.
- Al Jazeera: Cambodia begins mass treason trial of opposition activists
- Asia Times: Cambodia’s exiled opposition running out of time
- South China Morning Post: Cambodia’s aim in trade deals: keep the US and Japan close, but China closer