Photo/IllutrationSam Rainsy, the former head of an opposition party in Cambodia, gives an interview to The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo on April 12. (Akihiko Kaise)

The former leader of a Cambodian opposition party said he would call for a boycott of national elections this summer if opposition parties are not allowed to take part.

Sam Rainsy, who is in Japan to meet with officials as part of a lobbying campaign for support to restore democratic practices in his homeland, gave an interview to The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo on April 12.

The Cambodian National Rescue Party that Rainsy, 69, once led was ordered to be dissolved by the Cambodian Supreme Court in November 2017.

The CNRP made major gains at the last national election held in 2013.

But Kem Sokha, who succeeded Rainsy as party leader, was arrested and indicted on charges of plotting to overthrow the government of Hun Sen. The move is part of a series of recent moves in Cambodia to stifle opposition, as media organizations critical of the Hun Sen administration have been shut down, and government pressure continues to be applied on pro-democracy activists and nongovernmental organizations.

A national election is scheduled for July, but Rainsy said, "If they don't allow our party to participate, our supporters will not participate. Our call for a boycott is conditional. It is not too late now to find an arrangement."

He added that he would seek Japanese cooperation for Sokha’s release from prison, the restoration of the CNRP and the resumption of normal operations by media organizations.

"Japan has maintained dialogue with all parties," Rainsy said. "This puts it in a unique position to help establish a dialogue and to help find a political and peaceful solution."

He added that if a vote was held with only one party taking part that would be a "fake election."

Even if the party headed by Hun Sen should come out victorious in the election, Rainsy said, "On the international scene, Cambodia will have no legitimate government."

He added that if the election was not open to all parties the opposition would "call for protest, strikes, passive resistance and for international sanctions."

If such a situation transpires, Rainsy raised the possibility of internal turmoil in Cambodia if protests got out of hand.

He said such instability would hurt Cambodia's international trust and lead to reduced investment and international assistance.

Asked why Hun Sen has taken such strong-armed tactics, Rainsy said it was "fear" of the possible retributions that could arise if he ever lost power.

Meanwhile, Rainsy expressed confidence that the CNRP would gain support if it was allowed to take part in the national election and indicated there was the possibility he could return to Cambodia from France, where he currently lives in exile.

(This article was written by Akiko Suzuki and Akihiko Kaise, chief of The Asahi Shimbun's Asian General Bureau.)