In what was by far the largest defection yet of opposition party members in the lead-up to June 3 commune elections, 543 Sam Rainsy Party opposition members switched allegiances to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party yesterday.
The renegades, who include one senator and nine commune council members, were all from Kampong Cham province.
Their switch follows similar, but smaller, opposition defections in Battambang and Prey Veng provinces early this week.
Political analysts yesterday likened the defections to something of a pre-election tradition executed by the CPP through offers of money, positions in the civil service or gifts, but said 543 was an unusally high number.
But Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Manit, who welcomed the defectors into the CPP at a ceremony in Kampong Cham province’s Tbong Khmum district yesterday, said nothing had been offered to the former SRP members.
“Those who came to the Cambodian People’s Party, [we] did not offer anything for them. It means that they love our people’s party [if] they come,” he said, adding that it was a win-win situation for the CPP.
The defections were led by former SRP senator Vun Sivoeun and former Suong town council member Chheng Sophal.
Echoing the comments of others who left the party this week, yesterday’s defectors said their move had been prompted by nepotism within the SRP and the party’s lack of a political platform.
“The Sam Rainsy Party thinks of nepotism, does not think of its members. I defected to [CPP], I do not want any position – it is just to join in development,” Ham Ron, first deputy chief of Chiro I commune, said.
Senior SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said the defections were due to tried and true tricks the CPP played before every election.
“There was buying. It happens every day at every village by the CPP, and it was so clear, and the NEC does absolutely nothing about it,” she said, adding that the SRP was used to these tactics and would not let it hurt them.
NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said the issue was not his responsibility because the official campaign period, which begins next Friday, had not yet begun.
“People have the right to decide to join any party when they are not content with any party,” Tep Nytha said. “Normally, if they [political parties] use any strategy, it is up to them, because they . . . want supporters.”
Carlyle Thayer, a professor of politics at Australia’s University of New South Wales who produced a report on the 2008 National Assembly election, said defections to the ruling party elicited by enticements were a standard feature of ballots in the Kingdom.
“I would say, yeah, enticing people over [to the other side] has long been the stock and trade, but [yesterday’s] numbers are exceptional and all at once,” he said.
Thayer said those defecting usually expected something in return, and this had led to a huge swelling of the public sector and the government after the 2008 election.
“They were given positions, and the government ended up with an enormous number of vice-ministers and general directors,” he said, laughing.
Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay likened the SRP to a boxer who had once again been dealt a blow through the defections but said it was unclear how much this would hurt it at the ballot box.
“It is yet to be seen whether that kind of blow will weaken the SRP or send it down to the floor,” he said, echoing Thayer’s view that defectors would expect jobs.
“It seems joining the [CPP] is a ticket for a job in the public sector or the government.”
In the 2007 commune elections, the CPP won 70 per cent of seats and the SRP received 23 per cent.