TOKYO (Reuters) - Cambodian opposition leaders on Tuesday called on the world to keep a close eye on upcoming elections after several opposition lawmakers were brutally beaten and a top leader ousted from a key parliamentary post.
Ruling party lawmakers stripped Kem Sokha, deputy president of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), of his deputy parliament president post last month, a move that suggests a fragile political deal between the two parties has collapsed.
The country is set to hold local elections in 2017 and national elections a year later. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for more than 30 years, has warned that a CNRP victory in the 2018 election would see a return to civil war.
“The free world has very high leverage so they should not be complacent, even lenient, with Hun Sen, and should insist that a democratic election will be held as scheduled with the supervision of the international community,” Sam Rainsy, head of the CNRP, who is visiting Tokyo with Kem Sokha, told reporters.
Kem Sokha referred to “confrontation taking place”.
“I would like to appeal to all the international community to closely monitor and watch the situation before the election process,” he added.
Hun Sen last month condemned the assault on opposition parliamentarians and said those responsible would be brought to justice.
An agreement in July 2014 saw the CNRP end a year-long parliamentary boycott in return for a series of concessions by the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and some rare conciliatory talk by Hun Sen.
Kem Sokha had been appointed deputy parliamentary president as part of the deal, a move by the CPP to develop a “new culture of dialogue” with the increasingly popular CNRP.
But an illegal July protest over a disputed 2013 election, in which the CNRP’s success stunned its rivals, left 11 opposition politicians in jail.
Last month, the CPP voted to remove Kem Sokha from his post after the CNRP disparaged the ruling party. Two days before Kem Sokha’s ouster, two opposition politicians were violently assaulted.
Robust economic growth, jobs creation and sustained peace for an impoverished country roiled by decades of civil war, including under Pol Pot’s 1975-79 “killing fields” regime, have ensured Hun Sen’s continued re-election, although experts say he now faces a strong challenge from a rejuvenated opposition popular among urban youth.
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Nick Macfie