TOKYO: The leader of Cambodia’s main opposition on Tuesday called for a peaceful transfer of power in elections in 2018, encouraged by a historic vote in nearby Myanmar.
Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), also called for major donor Japan and the rest of the international community to pressure strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen to move towards a peaceful exit from office.
Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Rainsy said it was certain that in the next few years “we will see developments that will be reminiscent of what has been happening all over the world, especially very recently in Burma,” referring to Myanmar by its former name.
His comments came just hours after a top member of Myanmar’s ruling party admitted it had lost to Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition in a historic election on Sunday.
Rainsy, along with deputy party president Kem Sokha, was in Japan to meet Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Japanese lawmakers to seek support for the democratization process in Cambodia.
Myanmar has emerged as an unlikely beacon of democracy among its Southeast Asian neighbors after decades of iron-fisted military rule, which gave way to a quasi-civilian administration in 2011 but retained the army’s powerful role.
Neighboring Thailand has been under military rule since a May 2014 coup with elections ruled out until at least July 2017, Vietnam and Laos are ruled by authoritarian communist regimes, while Cambodia’s elections two years ago saw widespread opposition accusations of vote-rigging.
Cambodia has been ruled for three decades by Hun Sen, frequently accused by rights groups of stamping out dissent and ignoring human rights abuses.
Sam Rainsy, for years Hun Sen’s main rival, said that Cambodia’s rulers have noted Myanmar’s transformation and that “it’s crystal clear now that they want to avoid the democratic process, any democratic elections in the future.”
He called on Japan, which has provided substantial aid and other support after Cambodia emerged from the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, and other countries to step up pressure to ensure the country achieves full democratization.
“They should insist that democratic elections will be held as scheduled as promised to the international community,” he said.
“The free world has a very high leverage so they should not be complacent nor lenient” on the Hun Sen regime, he said.
Two weeks ago, Sokha was removed by a parliamentary vote after backers of Hun Sen’s party protested in the thousands for his removal.
That demonstration in Phnom Penh saw two CNRP lawmakers violently attacked, and police last week said three men charged with brutally beating them are members of the military.
“We demand the government to guarantee the safety and security of our members of parliament,” Sokha said, adding that rights groups and the CNRP have called for an independent probe.
“We don’t trust investigation by the government.”