Leaders of the Candlelight Party and the Human Rights Party are optimistic that the CNRP will eventually return to politics, despite its dissolution.
The Sam Rainsy Party merged with Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party in 2012 to form the CNRP, but members of both parties holding positions as commune councillors were required to remain in their respective parties.
In 2013, the CNRP managed to obtain 55 out of 123 parliamentary seats and become the first viable opposition party since Funcinpec in the early 1990s.
During the 2017 commune council elections, the members of the Sam Rainsy Party, now known as the Candlelight Party, and Human Rights Party left behind in 2012 officially joined the CNRP ranks and solidified its base, spooking the ruling CPP ahead of the 2018 national election.
But any chance for the CNRP to depose the CPP came to an end in November 2017 when Mr Sokha was arrested on treason charges and the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court; its 118 senior members were also barred from politics for five years.
Teav Vannol, president of the Candlelight Party, yesterday said there are 5,000 Candlelight Party members and supporters loyal to the CNRP, lying dormant as they wait to return to politics.
“I do not think that the Cambodian voters would want the two parties [Candlelight Party and HRP] to become a facade for a fake multi-party picture,” Mr Vannol said. “No party would replace the CNRP, even if we were to create a new one.”
Mr Vannol remains optimistic that former opposition party supporters are not convinced of the reason used by the government to dissolve the CNRP.
He added that former opposition supporters will not become a political tool of the CPP. Mr Vannol was referring to an amendment of the Law on Political Parties, which paved the way for former opposition members to have a ban on political activity lifted.
But in order to return, banned politicians must each file a request with either Prime Minister Hun Sen or Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
“It’s useless, I think that most former opposition members will not make such a request,” Mr Vannol said. “We are waiting for the right time.”
“I am sure that our leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, would have different thoughts about this,” Mr Vannol added. “They will find a way to reinstate the CNRP, and the CPP will have no choice but to follow.”
Son Soubert, HRP president, said his party members are currently waiting for the CNRP to return to politics.
He said that in order for the government to redeem itself in the eyes of the international community, it must reinstate the CNRP, noting that it will be ordinary Cambodians that will suffer the most if the government fails to act.
The European Union is currently reviewing Cambodia’s Everything-but-arms preferential status over perceived setback to democracy and human rights, such as the dissolution of the CNRP and the prosecution of its leaders.
“Cambodia is now being led by a communist party: the CPP. It’s shown this to the world,” Mr Soubert said. “I’m sure that creating a new party is not a good choice, I’d wait to hear from the former opposition leaders.”
The Candlelight Party and the Human Rights Party failed to dissolve themselves early last year after the Interior Ministry said they did not meet requirements.
Sophal Ear, an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs with the Occidental College in Los Angeles, said reviving the Candlelight Party and the HRP would undermine the return of the CNRP.
“This is something that Mr Hun Sen wanted to see happen. He knows that he can easily defeat a divided opposition party,” Mr Ear said. “A unified opposition however was a disaster for the CPP. I do not think that it is a good idea to divide support.”
Mr Ear noted that it is unlikely for former CNRP members to register under a new party in order to return to politics.
“I’m sure that creating a new party is not a good choice, I’d wait to hear from the former opposition leaders,”Mr Soubert said.
In an email to Khmer Times yesterday, Mr Rainsy said he and Mr Sokha have no plans to create a new political party.
Mr Rainsy is confident that the government will cave under international pressure and have the CNRP reinstated.
“The CNRP must be and will be reinstated. There is no other solution to the current political crisis, as denounced by the world’s community of democratic nations,” he said.
Mr Rainsy noted that under Mr Hun Sen, any political party has the potential to be dissolved.
“If any political party grew big enough to one day seriously challenge Hun Sen’s power, it would be dissolved the same way as the CNRP was,” Mr Rainsy said. “Therefore, all Cambodian democrats should unite and fight for a regime change with a reinstated CNRP.”
CPP spokesman Chhim Phal Virun, who was a former colleague of Mr Sokha, yesterday said politicians should form a new party or join a new one instead of hoping for the return of the CNRP.
“The door is now open, I think if they stick to their political career, file the request and join any other party, it’ll be a good idea,” Mr Phal Virun said. “It’s not a good idea to operate outside of the law while vowing for democracy and development.”
“As long as those people respect the law, they can return to politics and compete in the upcoming election,” he added. “It’s too late for the CNRP to be reinstated.”