Hun Sen finds a Thai ally

Hun Sen finds a Thai ally

What is as troubling as the ruling Cambodian regime's ruthless crackdown on opposition leaders, as recent developments over the past few days have shown, is how willingly the Thai government has cooperated with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

By citing the need to refrain from interference in Cambodia's internal affairs, which is a cardinal rule amongst Asean nations, Bangkok has agreed to refuse entry to a group of exiled opposition leaders. In doing so, it has fulfilled Hun Sen's request and this shows Thailand's support in this matter, in fact, does amount to interference in Cambodian politics.

Sam Rainsy, a top leader of the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), who has been lived in self-exile in France, had pledged to make a dramatic return to his homeland on its independence day tomorrow. However, Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha instructed immigration officials not to let that happen, saying it was a commitment to Asean's policy to not interfere in one another's internal affairs. In fact, Thai Airways went as far as preventing Sam Rainsy from boarding a flight from Paris to Bangkok yesterday.

The same goes for Malaysia which had originally planned to deny entry to and temporarily detained three Cambodian dissidents including CNRP vice president, Mu Sochua, who planned to join Sam Rainsy upon his return home to challenge the autocratic Hun Sen. However, last night Malaysian authorities reversed their decision and let the three dissidents enter the country.

Sam Rainsy and many other CNRP leaders have convictions or charges pending against them. These lawsuits have long been criticised for being politically motivated and farcical as the accusations are groundless and a nonsense. Their return poses a danger to their safety as the Cambodian government has dispatched troops along the Thai-Cambodian border to stop them from entering the country via land routes.

Of course, Sam Rainsy wants to make a dramatic return in the hope of triggering street demonstrations by his supporters. This is one reason why Hun Sen is afraid of the return of Sam Rainsy and his allies. If they are able to enter the country and Hun Sen has them arrested and jailed, his administration will likely be slapped with trade sanctions by the West. As it stands, Europe is already deciding whether to pull Cambodia's preferential access to its markets.

By cooperating with Hun Sen, Thailand has helped the leader escape those scenarios by supporting his regime and preventing the opposition from playing a role in politics in the country. Thailand should have done the same as Indonesia and Malaysia did by allowing the opposition leaders to enter as long as they do not carry out violent activities on their soil. Their passage to Cambodia will be made at their own risk.

Jakarta had earlier allowed entry to Mu Sochua and what she did in Indonesia was hold a press conference talking about her plans to return home. She said she would return to restore democracy. That is what many Cambodians need.

Cambodia's dying democracy needs rescuing. It needs a functioning opposition to balance one-party rule. Thailand does not have to pressure Phnom Penh to restore democracy, it only has to comply with Asean's non-interference rule. It also means that there is no need to strictly follow Hun Sen's requests.

What Thailand has done demonstrates the shortcomings of its democratic principles and an open willingness to help Hun Sen bully his opponents and kill democracy in Cambodia.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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