Cracks are beginning to be seen in Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) unity and analysts predict that a real split in the opposition may be seen in the coming weeks, after party co-founder Sam Rainsy said his position as CNRP “acting president” had become fully effective following blessings from Buddhist monks in Paris on Sunday.
The former CNRP president until he stepped aside in February last year for fellow co-founder Kem Sokha, Sam Rainsy said the party had held back from installing him as acting president after his nomination at an international conference in the US early this month.
Sam Rainsy said his position became official on Sunday after the blessing ceremony.
“Today [Sunday] is regarded as the day I take on the acting presidency of the CNRP. The preparation for me to take this position went through three phases,” he said.
Sam Rainsy claimed that the first phase was completed with the nomination at the conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in the US, on December 2, while the second phase was a meeting with members in Paris on Saturday.
“This is not only an honour, but I receive enormous blessings and virtue, which is the third phase to make me become full-rights acting president of the CNRP, effective from [Sunday] onwards,” he told the monks after the ceremony.
Sam Rainsy said last week that his taking up the position was delayed because Pol Ham, a former vice-president of the CNRP, did not back him. But Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang, another former vice-president, and the senior leadership approved the Atlanta decision to appoint him acting president.
He claimed that Ham was too afraid to give his opinion from Cambodia. Contacted by The Post on Monday, Ham said he could not comment as he was ill.
Some senior officials close to Kem Sokha slammed Sam Rainsy’s return to the CNRP as acting president, calling it a “party coup” that violated its bylaws.
Meanwhile, last week, Rainsy warned that any of the 118 barred CNRP politicians who sought to take advantage of Thursday’s amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties by requesting to have their Supreme Court bans lifted would “betray the party”.
Analysts say that the real split in the former opposition party remains to be seen over the coming weeks.
Social analyst Meas Nee said he believes the recent law change was intended as a test of CNRP’s unity. He said the recent attacks by members of the party’s pro-Sokha faction after Rainsy’s nomination showed signs of a real breakup.
“This new law is an important test to see solidarity among the CNRP … to see how strong the unity between Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy is."
“Let’s see in a few weeks if any CNRP officials request a lifting of their political ban. If many do, then the signs of a breakup are much clearer,” he said.
Meas Nee said the fragmentation within the CNRP was due to the disconnect between Rainsy and Sokha. He said Rainsy didn’t want the party to remain quiet while Sokha was at home awaiting trial on treason charges.
He said for now, however, the CNRP was not yet broken like a “plate”.
“I see that they are not yet in pieces like a broken plate. The two leaders still show tolerance. Sam Rainsy did not attack Kem Sokha’s desperate supporters, and Kem Sokha, though his daughters and supporters did, did not make strong comments against Sam Rainsy,” he said.
Meas Nee said it would be the end of the CNRP if the two leaders split.
However, he said Rainsy had “smeared” the banned CNRP politicians by warning of betrayal and that was not good.
“The talk of betrayal was too much and I don’t support that. He should explain better what he meant when he talked about someone asking for their political ban to be lifted,” Nee said.
Nevertheless, he said if any of the 118 did request the removal of their ban, it would imply that they had admitted committing the violations that led to their party being dissolved by the Supreme Court in November last year.
Ou Vireak, the director of independent think tank Future Forum could not be reached by The Post for comment, but he said on Twitter: “They seem to know what they are fighting against, but not quite sure what they are fighting for. A shared vision? Anyone surprised by this crack within the CNRP?
“The Cambodian political divide is deep-rooted. It will take a minimum of another 10 years to possibly have a chance to debate policies that matter for the country and her people,” he said.
Former opposition lawmaker Mao Monyvann told The Post from Australia that he would remain aligned to Kem Sokha.
“The important thing is Kem Sokha’s fate. Kem Sokha was arrested. Everything will become stable if President Kem Sokha is released. This is the only reason I would continue my work [in politics],” he said.