Sam Rainsy may have resigned from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, but he appears set to remain the face of the party – quite literally – for the foreseeable future.
The longtime opposition leader yesterday authorised his former party to continue using images of him and acting president Kem Sokha on the party’s numerous billboards dotted around the country.
The exiled former head of the CNRP quit the party and its presidency on February 11 ahead of Monday’s passage of a revamped Law on Political Parties. The new law contains language that could dissolve the opposition party on the basis of outstanding criminal convictions he faces on an assortment of cases widely believed politically motivated.
Rainsy took to Facebook yesterday and said the party could continue using images of he and Sokha holding hands on party signage across the country, adding that he continued to “cherish and uphold” the CNRP’s ideals.
“Therefore, I call on all Cambodians to wholeheartedly support the CNRP in order to bring about a positive change for Cambodia,” the post reads.
The question of Rainsy’s image has recent precedent, as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party changed its billboards in 2015 after the death of longtime party stalwart Chea Sim, leaving only Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin on its signs.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that despite Rainsy’s new status as a private citizen, the party had not even considered removing him from its billboards. “Nobody in the party has even discussed this. Nothing,” he said.
He reiterated that both Sokha and Rainsy would continue to adorn the party’s political signage across the country.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, however, disagreed with keeping Rainsy on the billboards, saying the party should not be using “ordinary individuals” when campaigning for the elections.
“Normally you put a president of the party or put a deputy president of the party,” he said.
While conceding it was an internal issue for the opposition, he added that the National Election Committee should look into whether using Rainsy’s image was in any way violating the law.
That seems unlikely as the Law on Political Parties only places restrictions on a party’s official logo, such as preventing the use of national symbol Angkor Wat or images of Khmer kings.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea yesterday confirmed that the law did not prevent the use of any individual’s images on party signage.
Despite his exit from the party, Rainsy remains a huge draw among party supporters and continuing to use his image only made sense, political analyst Chea Vannath said yesterday.
“He is now like an honorary leader of the party,” she said. “It is not a good idea to take down his image.”
Vannath added that the removal of Rainsy’s image could be perceived among certain party supporters as symbolising a rift in the party, even if that were not the case.