Despite former opposition leader Sam Rainsy still considering his alliance with Kem Sokha to be “one person” (steadfast), the reality is quite the opposite, with academics saying groups supporting both politicians are becoming increasingly divided.
Former court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Sokha is in the country facing trial on a charge of “treason” while Rainsy has been living in exile in Paris since 2015 to avoid serving imprisonment.
Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan said yesterday that “rifts and divisions” between Rainsy’s and Sokha’s group is something that cannot be hidden.
“Their followers are quarrelling and their leaders have disagreed on many issues,” he said.
In a video clip posted to his Facebook page recently under the title “Are Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha still together?” Rainsy claimed he and Sokha remain united.
“I would like to confirm that the positions of Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy are the same. It is a position where we can speak for ourselves, we do not allow anyone to speak for us,” he said.
Rainsy said the ex-CNRP leadership and “international community” does not accept the dissolution of the party in 2017.
“They have dissolved our party on paper, we urge them to reinstate our party, erase what is wrong. The European Union, they are demanding what I am saying, that is, for the CNRP to be reinstated,” he added.
Rainsy resigned as CNRP president in February 2017 to save the party before the legislative bodies passed a law barring convicts from political leadership and dissolving parties being led by individuals convicted of crimes by the courts. Sokha who at the time was “deputy president”, was appointed the party president.
“When I resigned and Kem Sokha replaced me, they still dissolved the CNRP, so Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy must maintain the same common position, we must lead the CNRP together,” Rainsy said.
Amid the dissolution of CNRP, 118 senior members were banned from politics for five years by the Supreme Court in November 2017 after Sokha was arrested and charged with “treason” for allegedly colluding with the US to attempt to overthrow the government. Some of the highest-ranking members who have since been politically rehabilitated have formed new parties.
“Because some inferiors are running around, that why the bosses must remain strong and keep our position, and I believe that Kem Sokha has maintained his position until now,” Rainsy said.
He said Sokha is “honest” with the people and will not split from him to request for politically rehabilitation or create a new political party.
“Mr Hun Sen wants Kem Sokha to form a new party. Has Kem Sokha ever announced the formation of a new party? He has not,” he said. “Therefore, Kem Sokha did not lose to an intimidation of Mr Hun Sen.”
“Kem Sokha does not follow Hun Sen. This is why I believe that Kem Sokha is an honest person, a steadfast partner of Sam Rainsy,” he added.
However, Eysan rejected the accusation by Rainsy, saying Mr Hun Sen did not lobby Sokha to create a new party. He said Sokha is still banned from politics for five years and still under court supervision.
“They are fabricating stories to blame the CPP. The division is its (former opposition party’s) internal affair. And disagreements are also their internal affair,” he said.
Eysan said Rainsy, who was not a board member of the ex-CNRP, still claims to be “acting president” of the court-dissolved party, a move which has received condemnation from Sokha’s supporters.
Mr Hun Sen’s initiative over public donations to purchase the COVID-19 vaccine is also one of the disagreements between Rainsy and Sokha. Sokha said he supports the measures taken by the government to curb the COVID-19 pandemic while Rainsy took the opportunity to slam Mr Hun Sen, calling the plan an attempt to “cheat” the people and even insulted the King who donated towards the noble cause.
Kin Phea, director general at the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relation Institute said yesterday that the theory “Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy are the same people” is just rhetoric to cover up the “rifts and divisions” between groups loyal to Rainsy and Sokha.
“Actually, I have noted that their strategic aspects, actions, as well as their political rhetoric are embedded in deep divisions that are difficult to reconcile or repair,” he said. “They each claim their original ideals of the CNRP, so they are waiting to see who leaves the original alliance to form a new political party.”
In 2012, the Human Rights Party headed by Sokha merged with the Sam Rainsy Party (later renamed as Candlelight Party) headed by Rainsy to form the now-dissolved CNRP.
“I do not see any sign that they can have a common strategy to continue their political career in the political arena in Cambodia. If they talk about the reinstating the ex-CNRP, it will still be impossible, and the possibility of forming a new party is also difficult because they are worried about public condemnation,” he added.
However, Pa Chanroeun, president for the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, disagrees with Phea. He said the theory raised by Rainsy is a “political ideology” to showcase the unity and solidarity between Rainsy and Sokha and the merger between two previous parties to form the CNRP.
“In the past, we have never heard a word from the two politicians whether they will split, but according to observations, Sam Rainsy still declares that he and Kem Sokha are still the same people,” he said.
“Therefore, it is difficult for us to conclude that the political ideology or political message is extinct or no longer true because in the past we have not seen any group or faction that reflects the intention of Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy to separate from the spiritual path (which led) to the joint formation of CNRP,” he added.