More Cambodia National Rescue Party elected officials are heeding Prime Minister Hun Sen’s calls to defect to the ruling party following the dissolution of the opposition last week, but the defections still represent less than 10 percent of all CNRP officials.
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the CNRP – the Kingdom’s largest opposition party – and banned 118 senior party officials from politics for five years, rendering more than 5,500 elected officials jobless with immediate effect.
Within hours of the verdict, Hun Sen gave CNRP officials an extra two weeks to jump ship to his ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Prior to that, less than 200 opposition members had taken him up since he first offered to let defectors keep their jobs on October 22. He yesterday rolled back the two week extension to just one week.
“The voluntary defection to the CPP is only until November 24, because the list preparation for new commune officials will be sent to National Election Committee” the following day, he told government mouthpiece Fresh News on Monday. “From the 25th, the defections can still continue, but no [elected] positions will be given.”
The CPP claims to have received 390 defections as of Monday. They include one lawmaker, 33 provincial and district councillors, and 356 commune officials, of whom 33 are commune chiefs. The chiefs account for around 7 percent of the 489 CNRP chiefs elected in June, with roughly the same proportion of councillors defecting.
The most high-profile defection so far has been CNRP lawmaker Long Bunny, who left the CNRP and was quickly elevated to the position of adviser to the prime minister.
“The number has increased quickly from the day when the court dissolved the CNRP. Now, they are coming one after another, three or four at one time, from different provinces and communes,” said CPP spokesman Sok Eysan.
Eysan attributed the defections to disappointment among the CNRP ranks over party President Kem Sokha’s alleged involvement in a treasonous plot to overthrow the government. Sokha – now jailed over the accusations – as well as other senior party leaders, have strenuously denied the existence of such a plot.
Multiple CNRP officials contacted yesterday could not be reached, including provincial executive committee members and commune chiefs and councillors, some of whom have complained of increased intimidation and pressure to move to the CPP in recent weeks.
Chea Chiv, former head of the CNRP’s Battambang executive committee, said that after the ruling, the pressure to defect had intensified, and many officials had gone into hiding to avoid further intimidation.
“With the political situation, some officials who are party leaders at the provincial level have decided to flee or find a safe place because they face challenges,” he said yesterday. “But, those who are having economic problems have decided to go.”