Fri, Nov 10, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Cambodian opposition’s local successes draw strong government backlash

Sin Rozeth dropped out of university, made some money by helping others with real-estate deals before entering politics and helping to develop her community. Her work drew the attention of the Cambodian Ministry of the Interior

By Matthew Tostevin  /  Reuters, BATTAMBANG, Cambodia

Discrimination against CNRP commune chiefs was widespread, said Mu Sochua, a deputy of Kem Sokha who fled into exile fearing arrest.

“Other communes face the same targeting if we shine and show too much competence,” she said.

Battambang Provincial Governor Nguon Ratanak, from the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), said local leaders had to obey the law and denied stopping anyone from developing their communes.

“They still want to apply the political policies used during the campaign,” he said. “Commune chiefs must work under the guidelines of the interior ministry, not their political party.”

If the CNRP is banned, with a court decision due on Thursday next week, the ruling party would take control of all the communes the CNRP currently leads, based on a change to the election law approved by Cambodia’s CPP-dominated parliament last month.

The government has dismissed criticism that the crackdown ahead of July’s election is turning Cambodia into a one-party state.

It has saidit is only acting against those who break the laws.


Arrested in a midnight raid on Sept. 3, CNRP leader Kem Sokha was accused of plotting with Americans to organize a “color revolution” like those that toppled eastern European strongmen.

“We can’t let this dangerous revolution happen in Cambodia,” senior interior ministry official Huy Vannak said. “You try to put an American jacket onto a Cambodian and it doesn’t fit.”

Among those forced out even before Kem Sokha’s arrest was the US Department of State-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI), which spent 25 years on a democracy-building mission that cost an average US$2 million a year for the past five years.

Sin Rozeth, who was born two years after Hun Sen came to power in 1985, has benefited from its training, as did many members of the ruling party. It included lessons in campaigning — trainers taught her not to attack other parties, she said — and how to present her own policies.

The NDI said that since the recent elections, 138 CPP members had participated in NDI activities along with 153 members of the opposition.

“If this was an effort to try to collude with the opposition then we’re guilty of colluding with the ruling party as well,” NDI president Kenneth Wollack said.

Within days of Kem Sokha’s arrest, a top Chinese official flew to Phnom Penh with words of support. China has replaced the US as Cambodia’s biggest single donor by far.

In the US Congress, senators John McCain and Dick Durbin have introduced a resolution that could lead to travel restrictions on Cambodian leaders.

Cambodian officials have said they do not fear any penalties.

“The Americans can’t even control North Korea,” government spokesman Phay Siphan said.


Sin Rozeth believes the strategy of promising change locally as well as nationally helped explain her party’s success.

Facebook Live videos show the diminutive and energetic figure getting drains built through the muddy streets of Battambang, famed for Cambodia’s finest jasmine rice and its French colonial architecture, winning her followers far beyond the city.

“I went out to meet people and get to know their problems. I went to funerals to pay condolences even if I didn’t know the people,” Sin Rozeth said.

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