SAM Rainsy, the former Cambodian opposition leader currently living in exile has called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to be “brave enough” to allow him to contest in next year’s national polls.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Rainsy said in order to have a free and fair election, he must be allowed to be a contender and prime ministerial candidate to compete with Hun Sen.
“I request that Hun Sen be brave enough not to obstruct me from being able to compete with him,” Rainsy, who resigned from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) earlier this year, said.
Rainsy quit as president of CNRP, Cambodia’s leading opposition party, in February, shortly after Hun Sen threatened legal changes that appeared to target him ahead of the polls.
The amendments, which were approved late February, stops anyone convicted of an offence from running for office for five years. The changes effectively bars Rainsy, Hun Sen’s main rival, from contesting in the election.
Courts that critics say are influenced by Hun Sen have convicted Rainsy of a series of defamation charges, forcing the opposition leader into exile in France.
In October last year, the government issued an order banning Rainsy from returning to the country and directed all airlines flying to Cambodia not to allow Rainsy on board their flights.
During the RFA interview, Rainsy was asked how he would return to Cambodia in time for the national election in 2018. He said Hun Sen would first have to suspend and drop the order given to airline companies.
“No airline companies dare to board me due to Hun Sen’s threat that any airline that flies me to Cambodia will face a situation in which all passengers on board will not be allowed to leave the plane and the plane has to return to its place of origin,” Rainsy said.
“Only his government dares to obstruct one of its citizens from being able to return to Cambodia.”
On June 5, the CNRP won a significant portion of the vote against the authoritarian ruling party of Hun Sen, after record numbers of voters turned out for local elections.
The CNRP won 46 percent of the vote to the ruling Cambodian People Party’s (CPP) 51 percent, a massive increase from the last local council commune elections when the CPP won 97 percent of the vote against a divided opposition.
The country’s National Election Committee (NEC) announced more than 6.7 million Cambodians turned out to vote, exceeding voter turnout at the 2012 commune elections by over 1.7 people,
And while the opposition party made significant gains in June’s local elections, Human Rights Watch said they did so in a deeply hostile environment.
HRW claimed the council commune poll held on June 4 was not free or fair.
Voters went to the polls “in a threatening environment hostile to free speech and genuine political participation,” the watchdog said, noting constant warnings of potential civil war from ruling CP) figures in the case that they were not victorious.