The assassination attempt on Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy marked a major setback to the country's fragile democracy and must be deplored with no uncertain terms. Eleven people were killed and 121 others were injured. The grenade attack outside the National Assembly in capital Phnom Penh was the first on political demonstrations led by Mr Rainsy's Khmer National Party (KNP) since the officially unrecognised group was formed in 1995. Mr Rainsy, undaunted by the bloody assault, held co-premier Hun Sen of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) responsible. The CPP has ruled Cambodia in an uneasy coalition with the royalist FUNCINPEC party after winning a United Nations-sponsored general election in 1993.
However, the political landscape had been redefined when Mr Rainsy's KNP joined an alliance with FUNCINPEC last month to compete against the CPP in elections expected in November next year. The CPP ruled Cambodia during the 1980s, backed by Vietnam, whose army toppled the genocidal Khmer Rouge in 1979. The CPP elbowed its way into a coalition in 1993 by threatening renewed civil war. Today it retains control over much of the security apparatus. The attack casts doubts over prospects of free and non-violent legislative elections.
There has been no proof that Mr Hun Sen's CPP was behind the assassination attempt, and there have been no arrests. But it seemed clear that the attack was aimed at dissuading Mr Rainsy's supporters from taking part in political demonstrations. The rally held yesterday was to protest against the judiciary's alleged subservience to the CPP. Mr Rainsy, who was ousted as the country's finance minister in 1994 for his criticism of the government, vowed yesterday he was 'more determined than ever to continue our peaceful move for democracy and human rights. We will not be intimidated by the people who carry out these cowardly attacks'.
Violence in any form must be condemned. Political parties should use peaceful means to win elections. A fragile democratic process in Cambodia was ushered in by the UN. It would be a shame if Cambodia turns into a one-party dictatorship. Cambodians who have suffered decades of civil war deserve better.