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Embattled Sokha distances himself from Rainsy

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(From left to right) Former leaders of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha. AFP

Embattled Sokha distances himself from Rainsy

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha called on his former colleague Sam Rainsy and his group to stop abusing his reputation by using his name and photos in connection with their political ambitions.

Sokha said what Rainsy and his group had done proved that he and Rainsy are not one and the same person in the manner that Rainsy used to describe.

“Obviously Sam Rainsy and his colleagues walked away from our original principles and spirit of unity by creating various other political movements and taking new positions themselves, especially recently, they have returned to openly supporting their old Candlelight party,” Sokha said in a Facebook post on November 28.

“The actions prove that Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are not united as one person because all of these activities have no support from me nor are they my positions.”

Sokha – who remains under court supervision on charges of treason and banned from involvement in any political activities – urged them to stop misleading public opinion.

“I would also like to confirm that I am not involved with nor am I responsible for the activities of Sam Rainsy and his followers,” he said.

Rainsy – the self-declared acting president of the Supreme Court-dissolved CNRP – has frequently used the slogan “Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are as one” since the election in 2013 in order to rally his supporters. Even after the CNRP was dissolved in 2017 and Sokha was later arrested on treason charge, Rainsy has continued to use the slogan at events abroad.

At a recent rally in California, he called on all former CNRP leaders to be open-minded and not show any divisions under these circumstances, saying it did not benefit the nation.

Thach Setha, first vice-president of the Candlelight Party – which was formerly known as the Sam Rainsy Party – declined to comment on the issue, saying it was their personal decision and that he was focused on his work strengthening the reconstituted Candlelight Party.

Political analyst Seng Sary was of the view that Sokha had violated the court’s ban on his involvement with politics with this latest message and that he would gain nothing by it while Rainsy would just keep using the old slogans to claim that there is not any division.

He said Sokha and Rainsy are in very different positions. If Sokha is to stay out of politics he has to renounce any membership in the CNRP because the party is dissolved. This is the opposite of what Rainsy is doing as he is sticking with the CNRP name despite the legal dissolution of the party, he said.

Sary added that keeping the core loyalties of the dedicated CNRP membership would make Rainsy more popular than Sokha when Rainsy joins with any party – such as the Candlelight Party – which he already used to lead.

“So far we have seen that [former opposition party officials] that stay close to Sokha are all getting lost on the battlefield,” he said.

The Candlelight Party organised a congress on November 27 to modify the party’s bylaws and set up a new party structure in advance of next year’s commune council elections. They selected some former CNRP officials and some people new to politics such as NGO workers to serve on their party’s board.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the Candlelight Party’s congress is the latest intriguing development in Cambodian politics involving former CNRP officials who are looking for ways to participate in the upcoming elections.

Phea said the reformation of the Candlelight Party indicates a final breakup of the CNRP’s political coalition because the former belonged to Rainsy and that although Rainsy is not publicly showing any involvement with the party, his influence over it is obvious if one looks at the people joining it.

“This shows that there is a split among them regarding the rebirth of the CNRP. However, the Candlelight Party’s congress is a clear sign showing that the political atmosphere in Cambodia is moving towards a better environment where opposition parties can operate in a more open and unrestricted manner,” he said.

Reached for comment on November 28, Rainsy said: “This is the result of threats from Hun Sen who dreads the unity among Cambodian democrats and who holds Kem Sokha hostage.”

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