Cambodia's opposition chief loses key role ahead of polls

The ruling Cambodian People's Party has a slim majority in Parliament and voted unanimously yesterday (Jan 31) to remove Mr Kem Sokha's minority leader status.
The ruling Cambodian People's Party has a slim majority in Parliament and voted unanimously yesterday (Jan 31) to remove Mr Kem Sokha's minority leader status.PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH • Cambodia's Parliament has stripped the main opposition leader of a key role, further weakening Prime Minister Hun Sen's opponents ahead of the polls.

Mr Kem Sokha, deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), had held the minority leader status under a 2014 agreement to end political deadlock and promote dialogue between Mr Hun Sen and the country's opposition.

The ruling Cambodian People's Party has a slim majority in Parliament and voted unanimously yesterday to remove Mr Kem Sokha's minority leader status.

The role in theory gave him the same status as the prime minister in regular talks designed to preserve political stability. The CNRP boycotted the vote.

Political tension has been rising in Cambodia, where local polls in June and a general election next year threaten Mr Hun Sen's three- decade grip on power.

The opposition party complained that removing Mr Kem Sokha's status as minority leader meant a shift in the balance of power.

After the vote, opposition CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay called for a return to negotiations.

The vote was a setback for the opposition and puts the political dialogue on "life support", said Dr Ear Sophal, an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Cambodia's rivals agreed to the regular political dialogue after a disputed election led to protests, arrests and political deadlock.

CNRP party leader Sam Rainsy lives in exile in France to avoid jail on a series of defamation convictions, and Mr Hun Sen brought another defamation case against him last month, demanding US$1 million (S$1.4 million) in damages.

Mr Rainsy says all the charges against him have been politically motivated.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Cambodia's opposition chief loses key role ahead of polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe