January 17, 2018 / 12:30 PM / a month ago

Cambodian exile says postpone election to avoid violence

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Exiled Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy on Wednesday raised the prospect of violence if this year’s general election is not postponed, prompting a government accusation of a threat to the state.

Cambodian politics has been in turmoil since the dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last year, following the arrest of its leader, Kem Sokha, on treason charges he says were politically motivated.

Sam Rainsy, a former CNRP leader now living in exile in France, called for a postponement of the July election, at which Prime Minister Hun Sen is now expected to easily extend his 33 years in power.

The vote should only be held once it can “meet minimum international standards”, Sam Rainsy wrote in a social media tweet.

“This would avoid both violence and Cambodia becoming a pariah state,” he added.

Western countries have condemned the dissolution of the opposition party and said the election cannot be credible, but there has been little open public reaction to the decision, with many CNRP supporters saying they are afraid to protest.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan accused Sam Rainsy of trying to create fear.

“This is a threat to the whole of Cambodia against holding the election,” he told Reuters. “There is no necessity to delay the election. Elections in Cambodia have never been postponed.”

Sam Rainsy, a veteran foe of Hun Sen, recently announced the formation of a new opposition group - the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM), but some Cambodia-based members of the now banned opposition party have criticized the decision.

Sam Rainsy has lived in France since 2015 to avoid a series of convictions he says were politically motivated.

Reporting by Chan Thul Prak; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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