Cambodia opposition boss evades arrest

Kem Sokha (centre) meets Cambodia National Rescue Party MPs. Source: Flickr

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha remains defiant after spending a month living at his party’s headquarters to avoid arrest and accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of being scared of losing the 2018 general election.

Kem Sokha asked for “national reconciliation” talks to end that crisis that he and the dictatorial Hun Sen say could bring political conflict.

Sokha and his fellow opposition members face legal charges they say are invented by a corrupt judiciary. Hun Sen was intimidating the opposition in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 2013 election that came close to costing him his job, Sokha claimed.

“What he is scared of most is defeat in the election,” said Sokha from the party headquarters where he has been living since May 26. “His strategy is to remove the opposition party leadership, so now he is targeting me.”

Sokha is acting head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) as leader Sam Rainsy was forced into exile late last year, also to avoid arrest.

Sokha is wanted for failing to attend court for questioning over a sex scandal in which he is accused of paying a prostitute.

Sokha has a curtained off area of his office to sleep in with his family.

The European Union has accused Hun Sen of using the judiciary to weaken the opposition and is threatening to review nearly US$500 million in aid the veteran premier continues to harass the opposition.

Hun Sen has denied wrongdoing.

“If the judiciary isn’t used, it’s only guns,” he told envoys last week. “And if guns are used, it would be chaos.”

Hun Sen attended a police station in Phnom Penh on Friday to pay a US$4 fine for riding a motorcycle without a helmet and licence plate in the southern province of Koh Kong. He arrived on another motorcycle, accompanied by bodyguards on their own bikes.

He apologised on Facebook and told the media that he could not cite parliamentary immunity to avoid punishment, in reference to Sokha.

“I hope that all people in Cambodia, regardless of whether poor, rich or powerful, whenever they committed wrongdoing against the law, they will face equal punishment before the law,” he said.

He praised the traffic policemen for their dedication and criticised opposition politicians for not respecting the law and appealing to the international community for help. Cambodia traditionally has been feeble at enforcing traffic laws, but rising numbers of new drivers and roads has led to increasing numbers of accidents and a crackdown.