Street scene in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Photo: World Bank
Cambodia’s political rapprochement has come to an end. The country’s opposition leader, Sam Rainsy of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has been removed from parliament and faces arrest over comments he made against the foreign minister in 2008. These events are the latest in a country facing amplified political tension, including the brutal assaults of two CNRP lawmakers who have been hospitalized for a month. Rhona Smith, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, warns that if the country keeps going in this direction, Cambodia and the human rights of its people are on the cusp of a “dangerous tipping point,” given that “the past weeks have been marked by a number of worrying developments: increasing tensions between the two principal political parties; incidences of violence; intimidation of individuals; and resort to offensive language in the political discourse.”
Cambodian Opposition Leader Faces Arrest Following Removal from Office, Cries “Constitutional Coup”
An arrest warrant has been issued for Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy, citing “public defamation and instigation of discrimination.” In 2008, Rainsy alleged that current Foreign Minister Hor Namhong was tied to the Khmer Rouge and ran a prison for the regime. In 2011, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Rainsy in-abstentia, sentenced him to two years in prison and fined him 8 million riels ($2000 USD). Namhong’s lawyer is now pursuing the dormant defamation case against Rainsy, who has since been stripped by the Cambodian People’s Party-led (CPP) parliament of his lawmaker status, including his right to immunity. The day before the arrest warrant was issued, Rainsy stated during his visit to Japan that he was unsure if the ruling-CPP would commit to holding elections in 2016 and 2017. This comment prompted Prime Minister Hun Sen to threaten legal action against Rainsy. The CNRP President has called the move a “constitutional coup when you want to arrest the leader of the opposition” and is postponing his return to Cambodia from South Korea, citing “safety concerns.”
Cambodia: political crackdown reaching a ‘dangerous tipping point’ warns UN rights expert. UN News Centre. November 23, 2015.
Tha, Thai. Cambodia Denies Sam Rainsy Arrest Warrant Was Politically Motivated. Radio Free Asia. November 19, 2015.
Vannarin, Neou. “Cambodia’s Sam Rainsy Stays Abroad as Key Opposition Figures Head Home.” Voice of America. November 23, 2015.
Myanmar Election Influences Democratic Movements in the Region, Shines Light on Cambodia’s Tense Political Situation
Myanmar’s election was closely followed in Cambodia, from major news outlets to Cambodian youth discussing the events on Facebook, and many contemplating what it means for Cambodia’s political future. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy applauded the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) “landslide victory” in Myanmar. He expressed that the election “shows, once more, that the days of all authoritarian regimes worldwide are counted… the wind of freedom that is blowing throughout the world will also reach Cambodia in the near future.” Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier, has ruled Cambodia for 30 years. He has stated that he will run for a fifth term in the country’s 2018 general election. Looking to Cambodia’s next election and running against Hun Sen, Rainsy likened himself to the NLD’s leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Critics dismiss the comparisons, claiming that Rainsy is too polarizing, and that he has fled his country in the past, unlike Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Spokesman of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Sok Eysan, claimed that, “The opposition party in Myanmar has a clear patriotic spirit. Every activity of the opposition party is in the Myanmar people’s interest. But the opposition party in Cambodia is completely different… It is 180 degrees different… The opposition party in Cambodia does not have patriotic ideals but ideals of revenge, to block powerful countries from offering aid to Cambodia” [Cuddy, The Phnom Penh Post].
Chandara, Yang and Morm Moniroth. Cambodia Can Benefit From Lessons Learned From Myanmar Vote: Analysts. Radio Free Asia. November 12, 2015.
Cuddy, Alice and Meas Sokchea. “Myanmar opposition victory resonates in Cambodia.” The Phnom Penh Post. November 11, 2015.
Vannarin, Neou. Hun Sen Decries Opposition’s Cambodia-Myanmar Comparison. Voice of America. November 12, 2015.
Cambodia’s Mass Faintings Continue
Cambodia’s mass fainting episodes continue to rise. On November 19, a farmer sprayed insecticide on rice in Kandal province, prompting 100 workers in a nearby South Korean-owned toy factory to become weak, dizzy, vomit, and faint. Thus far in 2015, 1200 Cambodian factory workers have fainted. The faintings tend to occur with factory workers— vulnerable to sub-par and stressful working conditions, poverty, and malnutrition—and the episodes are considered to be a “mass psychogenic illness” among the workers. Earlier this month, one garment worker died and 21 garment workers were hospitalized after a mass fainting at a Chinese-owned factory. Students are now suffering from fainting episodes. On November 14, Cham Muslim students fainted at their boarding house in Tbong Khmum province. The female students told police that they saw shadows of people underneath the stilted building, prior to the mass fainting. The possibility of a poison attack is being investigated in the community, which is facing increased discrimination against Muslims. Their nearby school, which was built by and intended for Muslims, has previously been subjected to vandalism. The school’s owner claims that he received a death threat this month, threatening his life if he did not turn the school over to the Cham people in the village. The police are still investigating the motives behind the attack and have not made any arrests.
David, Sen. “Muslim schoolgirls ‘gassed’ in Tbong Khmum.” The Phnom Penh Post. November 17, 2015.
Mass faintings strike Cambodian factories. The Nation: Pakistan. November 21, 2015.
Sokhean, Ben. Death Threat Preceded Mass Fainting. The Cambodia Daily. November 19, 2015.
Sokhean, Ben. Mass Fainting at Factory After Farmer Uses Insecticide Nearby. The Cambodia Daily. November 20, 2015.