Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday highlighted the government’s move to give former opposition party members banned from politics an opportunity to return while also taunting rivals for expecting a rift between himself and Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
Since the amendment to the Law on Political Parties was made, a total of nine former opposition party members have been granted pardons after filing a request for clemency with Mr Hun Sen or Mr Kheng.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia on Wednesday, former opposition politician Eng Chhai Eang accused the nine of “betraying” the party and the will of the Cambodian people.
Exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Kem Sokha will not seek clemency and instead will form a new party.
“The Phnom Penh regime is spreading rumours that CNRP President Kem Sokha would be willing to ask for his ‘rehabilitation’ from Hun Sen,” Mr Rainsy said on Facebook. “The big lie is that Kem Sokha actually intends to found another party and has given up the hope of seeing the CNRP reinstated.”
During a graduation ceremony yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said Mr Rainsy is unable to control what is left of the former opposition party and denied reports saying that up to $200,000 were paid in bribes to the nine returning politicians.
“They said Hun Sen cannot defeat them, and then split them,” he said. “I want to send you a message that your split is an internal matter, you are not suitable to be party leaders.”
“If you are strong, you know how to protect your party – you won’t allow your party to split,” Mr Hun Sen added, noting that the nine returning politicians should not be chastised by other politicians.
“I say to all politicians: please don’t smear each other if you see someone returning to politics,” he said. “Do not accuse the CPP and the government of buying people.”
He then denied rumours circulating about a possible rift with Mr Kheng.
“The CPP has been hearing rumours about rifts for more than 40 years,” Mr Hun Sen said. “In the 1980s, we heard rumours that Chea Sim and Say Phouthorng would create their own faction against me. Now they’re saying there’s a pro-Hun Sen and a pro-Sar Kheng faction.”
“Even Prince Norodom Ranariddh acknowledged that he received information that the CPP could split,” he added. “I told him you lose all the time because you don’t work hard. He just wants to see political results from our party splitting.”
Paul Chambers, a lecturer at the Naresuan University’s College of Asean Community Studies, yesterday said Mr Hun Sen wanted the rift between Mr Sokha and Mr Rainsy.
“Splitting Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy is a major strategy for Hun Sen because it is easier to divide and conquer an enemy rather than subdue them when they are united,” Mr Chambers said. “But I think also that Sokha and Rainsy understand that such splitting is a clear strategy of Hun Sen. They are thus taking extra care to stay together.”
Ou Chanrath said he was not motivated by money to return to politics.
“I think it is purely a smear campaign,” Mr Chanrath said. “To me and those who suffered under the ban, your accusation is baseless.”
In 2017, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 of its senior members from politics for five years following the arrest of Mr Sokha on treason charges.