The United States and European Union should isolate Cambodia from the international community to force it to push through political reform, according to the leader of the country’s leading opposition party. Pressure can be exerted by boycotting goods and cutting off aid to Phnom Penh, argued the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s leader Sam Rainsy in a presentation at the Wilson Center May 8.
General elections in Cambodia are scheduled for July 28, but Rainsy’s name will not be on the ballot despite being the leader of the biggest opposition group. Instead, he has been given a 10 year prison sentence on what many consider trumped-up charges in a government effort to keep him not only from running for office, but also out of the country. Rainsy argued that holding free and fair elections was critical for Cambodia’s future, adding that the current government not only violated free speech, but also oppressed its weakest citizens.
Garments, which make up the bulk of Cambodia’s exports, should be boycotted by both the United States and the European Union, Rainsy said. Industrialized nations must also stop providing financial assistance to Phnom Penh, if they want democracy to take root in the country, he added.
As for reforms that the Cambodia National Rescue Party would introduce, the party would firstly defend the rights of small farmers and give back land that had been confiscated from them. He underscored the huge cost to Cambodians of “land grabs,” the (often corrupt) sale or lease of valuable farmland or forests to foreign governments, corporations, or individuals. Fully one-third of Cambodia’s territory has been withdrawn from the public domain, Rainsy claimed, turning millions of Cambodians into “beggars.” (More information on the land grab issue is available here.)
He also pledged the party would establish a minimum wage to “end modern slavery.”
Rainsy’s near-term objective, though, is to postpone the upcoming general election so that “real elections” can be held.
- Leader, Cambodian National Rescue Party