In recent years, Cambodia has effectively become a one-party state with ever-tightening restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. The space for dialogue and democracy has been gradually constricted under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nearly 35 years in power.
The imminent return of Cambodia’s sole political opposition group, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), won’t solve Cambodia’s problems: it will end in a further crackdown or protracted political dialogue. But the move offers a way forward: it throws the authoritarianism of the current government into sharp relief, making it impossible for Hun Sen and his allies to hide behind any veneer of legitimacy.
CNRP leaders announced in June that exiled party leader Rainsy would be returning to Cambodia from France on November 9, the country’s independence day. At the time, the promise seemed ill-advised and bound for failure. The CNRP was dissolved by court order in 2017 for alleged treason and 118 of its party officials were banned from politics.