With the avenue to political negotiations all but shut by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha instead hit the road on the weekend for his first provincial trip since emerging from six months of virtual house-arrest at the party’s headquarters.
The CNRP leader – who spent from May to December last year holed up at CNRP HQ to avoid arrest over a “prostitution” case before receiving a royal pardon that quashed a related conviction – yesterday arrived in Preah Sihanouk province and plans to next visit Koh Kong.
Addressing district and local party officials and activists in Sihanoukville, Sokha expressed confidence in the opposition’s chances at the 2018 national election, claiming they had popular support on their side.
“According to a general opinion survey, most Khmer citizens want to have a positive change,” Sokha said.
“So we, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, must prepare to receive the wishes of Khmer citizens because most Khmer citizens put their hope in the CNRP.”
Last week the CPP cancelled a scheduled meeting between Sokha and Interior Minister Sar Kheng, with Prime Minster Hun Sen claiming the CNRP was creating trouble by lobbying for the release of four human rights workers and an election official imprisoned in a case related to Sokha’s.
The ruling party has since moved to dismantle the provisions of the parliament’s internal regulations that established a framework for cross-party talks.
Sokha last week said the failure of negotiations, though disappointing, provided an opportunity to meet grassroots supporters.
Speaking yesterday, So Sovath, the president of the opposition’s executive committee in Preah Sihanouk, said Sokha had reassured local officials that he and exiled CNRP President Sam Rainsy remained united.
“The short answer was we do not break,” he said.
Political analyst Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, said he believed Sokha made the right move heading to the provinces rather than waiting in the capital on the whims of the premier.
“Sokha is definitely a grassroots guy, the guy who can rally the farmers and the workers ... For the opposition the best option is going to the people – that’s their powerbase,” Virak said.
“But they need to not just oppose the government, but provide a better alternative.”