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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Candlelight’s hope flickering

Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks to the press after an event in 2015 in Phnom Penh.
Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks to the press after an event in 2015 in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Candlelight’s hope flickering

With the main opposition party on the brink of dissolution and exiled opposition figure Sam Rainsy facing a fresh lawsuit, the future of his former eponymous party appears up in the air and possibly under threat from the government.

As accusations of a systemic opposition-led plot to overthrow the CPP-led government continue to mount, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday directly implicated the minor Candlelight Party – formerly the Sam Rainsy Party until a recent rebranding – in a “system of treason”, citing the fact that the party was founded by the alleged criminal.

The then-SRP merged with Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party in 2012 to form the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party with Rainsy as president. The CNRP now faces dissolution after the arrest on “treason” charges of Sokha, who became president after Rainsy was forced to resign earlier this year. The SRP changed its name this year after amendments to the Political Parties Law were passed that stipulate parties cannot bear an individual’s name.

Last week, Rainsy became the latest opposition figure to be accused of treason after a video clip of a 2011 speech in which he appears to call on the armed forces to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen surfaced – words Rainsy said were taken out of context. The Defence Ministry said it was preparing to file a lawsuit against the dissident in exile.

“They colluded as allies, because . . . they did activities as the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Right Party,” Eysan said, referring to the Candelight Party. “It’s possible to get them into the [treason] story,” he said.

Defence Ministry spokesman Chum Socheat said any potential legal suits were the ministry’s internal affairs. “Please wait and see, [we] will take action,” he said.

Asked whether the lawsuit would involve a complaint against the Candlelight Party, he hung up on a reporter.

Kun Lum Ang, a Candlelight Party senator, said it remained unclear whether her party would be able to compete in next year’s national election or would itself face dissolution.

“We all know that the problems in the political situation have increased,’’ she said. “We need to wait and see first.’’

Fellow Candlelight Senator You Seang Leng was more confident that the party would not face dissolution, pointing out that Rainsy had resigned from the party to head the CNRP years ago.

“I am not worried because [Sam Rainsy] is gone . . . We’re not involved together,” he said. Analysts, however, disagreed about the party’s future.

Political analyst Meas Nee said he suspected the Candlelight Party would also face dissolution, arguing that the CPP would seek to prevent CNRP voters from jumping ship.

“The voters are not . . . politically fragile,” he said. “They’re just waiting for the announcement of the party to vote [for Candlelight].”

But Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, was doubtful that either the CNRP or the Candlelight Party would be dissolved, explaining that it was in the government’s interests to keep a weakened CNRP to prevent international backlash.

Either way, he said, voters simply wouldn’t come out for the Candlelight Party.

“I am suspecting that the voter turnouts will be much lower in 2018. So even if the CNRP can revive the Candlelight Party, it will likely lack momentum,” he said.

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