Less than two weeks after 11 opposition activists were handed lengthy prison sentences for their role in an attempted “insurrection” in July 2014, Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy Kem Sokha took aim at the ruling party in a pointed, yet veiled, speech to a gathering of supporters yesterday.
Speaking to a crowd of people in Kampong Speu’s Thpong district, Sokha delivered an ad hoc state of the Kingdom address.
Without direct mention of the ruling Cambodia People’s Party or the jail sentences that have been slammed by both local and international civil society organisations, Sokha stated that as long as rights continued to be violated, land continued to be grabbed and forest continued to be destroyed, Cambodia could not claim to be on a progressive political path.
“Giving people freedom is the important thing. I, as a politician, would like to promise people that when the [CNRP] wins the election to lead this country and I step in to lead with all these ‘Excellencies’, the first thing I must ensure is this country’s people have rights and freedom,” Sokha said.
He added that those who attain power by “dictatorial” means – a possible swipe at Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has kept a tight grip on power in the Kingdom for over 30 years – are afraid of democracy, since it means leaders must be held accountable to those that elected them.
“I understand that they can use their power by breaking [laws] to detain [people], but they cannot use their power to detain a human’s will and consciousness forever,” he said.
Sokha’s comments were met with a yawn by CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, who said it was predictable that the opposition leader would go on the attack once again.
“This is nothing surprising. We are only afraid when the opposition party praises us – if they praise us, then we get worried,” Eysan said jokingly, adding that the CNRP cannot tell the populace what to believe in solely based on allegations.
Human rights activist and independent political analyst Ou Virak said he believes Sokha is walking a sort of “political tightrope”: during a time when his party is attempting to strike a deal to free the 11 activists, Sokha seems to be keeping his rhetoric vague to avoid stirring up further trouble.
“I don’t think it’s unanimous in the CNRP about what to do. Some in the CNRP still have faith in the ‘culture of dialogue,’” Virak said, referring to the phrase coined to describe the recent cosier ties between the country’s two main parties.
“I can see how difficult it can be for him.”
Additional reporting by Ethan Harfenist