Today, exactly one year after my return to Cambodia at the end of four years of forced exiled following a politically motivated 12-year jail court sentence, I cut short a visit to Europe and am boarding a plane to return to my country.
Last year, my decision to return in spite of the pending jail sentence reflected my will to test the state of democracy in Cambodia in the campaign leading to the July 28, 2013 national elections.
Today, I hope my return will help defuse the worryingly growing political tension, secure the release of all detainees allegedly linked to recent political violence, re-start negotiations aimed at breaking the current political deadlock, and begin a process of national reconciliation to bring peace and justice to the Cambodian people.
In my capacity as leader of Cambodia’s democratic opposition I must draw the attention of the international community, especially that of the signatories of the 1991 Paris Agreements, to the fact that the democratization process as guaranteed by the said Agreements, has completely derailed.
By signing the Agreements twenty-three years ago, eighteen friendly countries, including all the world’s major powers, committed themselves to ensuring that Cambodia follows a “system of liberal democracy, on the basis of pluralism.” The country was supposed to move from a communist-type regime characterized by a one-party system towards a real and vibrant democracy following the organization of “free and fair elections.”
However, following the July 28, 2013 elections, which many independent observers have denounced as unfree and unfair, and following the increasingly brutal attempt to eliminate the opposition, Cambodia is – politically speaking – back to square one with the return to a one-party system reminiscent of the immediate post-Khmer Rouge period and the Cold War era.
The international community would lose its credibility if the Paris Agreements on Cambodia were to be continuously violated or completely ignored.
A few months before the July 2013 elections, all the opposition lawmakers were expelled from a National Assembly dominated by the former communist Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
On September 23, 2013, in the midst of popular protests related to unaddressed irregularities at the July 2013 elections, the CPP convened a controversial constitutive meeting of the National Assembly. That inaugural meeting and all subsequent sessions of the Assembly have been boycotted by the opposition, which seriously questions the legitimacy of the current government stemming from a one-party Assembly.
Over the last few days, following a violent clash on July 15 between security forces and pro-opposition demonstrators asking for the reopening of Freedom Park where unprecedented anti-government marches have recently started, an increasing number of opposition members, including seven lawmakers-elect, have been arrested, with the round-up continuing.
This most serious clampdown has deepened a political crisis whose gravity is unprecedented since the July 5-6, 1997 coup d’état.
It is time to properly address this deplorable situation for the sake of all the people of Cambodia and their friends.