Senior Cambodian opposition figure allowed back in politics

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A prominent former opposition politician in Cambodia had his ban on political activities lifted Thursday after the government approved his request for political rehabilitation.

The action was made known with publication of a royal decree.

Son Chhay had been a lawmaker with the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved by court order in November 2017 after the government accused it of treasonous activities. The court’s action was generally seen as intended to assist Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party win the 2018 general election.

Son Chhay, a senior CNRP member, was automatically banned from politics for five years. The party, which had been the parliamentary opposition, would have been the only credible challenger in the polls, which the ruling party ended up sweeping.

Son Chhay could not be reached for comment on the lifting of his ban. He holds both Cambodian and Australian citizenship, and since his old party was dissolved has been living quietly, most of the time in Australia.

Under a policy established by the government, he officially applied on Aug. 27 to have his ban lifted. Hun Sen endorsed his application and sent it to King Norodom Sihamoni, who issued a royal decree approving his political rehabilitation.

Hun Sen is known for cracking down hard on his political enemies when he feels under threat, and over time allowing them to operate more freely when he feels he holds the upper hand.

Because he is popular and known in the international community as an opposition lawmaker and advocate for human rights, Son Chhay is one of the few Cambodian politicians who could launch a new political party. Many of his former colleagues in the opposition remain reluctant to work at all with the government and most prominent ones are in exile.

King Sihamoni on Thursday also restored the political rights of two other lower-ranking former members of the CNRP. According to Fresh News, a local website closely associated with the government, at least 12 former party members have been allowed to resume their political activities.