US Senator Ted Cruz has called on the Cambodian government to release opposition leader Kem Sokha, accusing the Hun Sen administration of undermining “political liberalisation and credible elections” and endangering the future of US-Cambodia relations.
In a letter to Cambodian Ambassador to the United States and Mexico Chum Bun Rong, Cruz said he was writing to express his “deep concern” over the arrest of Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha, who was imprisoned in September on charges of treason.
Cruz called the charges “politically motivated” and the latest step in Hun Sen’s “quest to evade democratic accountability.”
The government’s plan to dissolve the CNRP and reallocate their seats in parliament to smaller, less powerful parties, also came under fire as “further evidence of his efforts to disable the institutions of democratic governance.”
— Monovithya Kem (@MNVKem) October 23, 2017
Dissolving the party will effectively eliminate any credible challenge to Hun Sen in next year’s general election. Critics accuse him of trying to turn the country into a one-party state for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). In June local elections, the CNRP won around 46 of the popular vote, compared to the CPP’s 51 percent.
As part of his efforts to continue his 32-year term in power, the former Khmer Rouge general has also led a crackdown on dissent, shuttering a number of prominent media outlets and radio stations that aired opposition voices.
Cruz highlighted this in his letter, accusing Hun Sen of undermining “Cambodian democracy.” He said if current circumstances do not improve, “it will be impossible for any impartial observer or nation to certify that elections in your country have been free and fair.”
The letter ended with an ultimatum, calling on the government to release Kem Sokha or face a travel ban.
“This attempt to undermine the Cambodian people’s faith in their democratic process must cease immediately,” the letter said.
“If your Prime Minister does not release Kem Sokha by Nov 9, I will work with my colleagues in Congress and in the Trump administration to see that specified government officials responsible for these actions are prevented from travelling to the United States.”