Pol Ham, a former vice-president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, made his first public remarks since his party was disbanded by the government in November, telling a group of reporters at a cafe in Phnom Penh on Friday morning that he had remained silent due to fear he would be arrested.

“I had not thought that the Supreme Court could dissolve the CNRP and ban 118 [senior party members] from politics,” Ham said, referring to a widely criticised November court decision to dissolve the only opposition party capable of challenging the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“Right now, I’m quiet, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to speak or do anything,” he said. “It’s just that they take tape to shut my mouth, tie my hands. But some people criticise me for doing nothing.”

Ham’s comments came during a meeting with Candlelight Party President Teav Vannol, who reiterated his previous statements that his party would boycott the July election.

Vannol also compared the numerous small parties said to be joining the election to “fireflies” whose lights can turn on and off at any time.

“I believe those parties will be gone after the election, because they are just fireflies – not like the CNRP,” he said.

CPP spokesman and Senator Sok Eysan dismissed Ham and Vannol’s comments as a ploy “to gain political benefits.”

“It’s true that the court dissolved and banned [Ham] from politics, which means his hands and legs are tied, but it’s the court’s right and decision,” Eysan said. “The court followed the laws because the CNRP and those members violated the law.”

Candlelight Party President Teav Vannol, pictured in a Phnom Penh restaurant on Friday morning.Heng Chivoan

Ham, who is in his 70s, previously told the Post just after the arrest of CNRP president Kem Sokha on treason charges in September that he wanted to retire to a pagoda.

When Ham was asked by journalists why he and other former party members still in the country were not helping the jailed Sokha, Ham said it was Sokha’s lawyers and family members “who should know about Kem Sokha’s well-being in jail.”

“To me, I speak in the name of a citizen,” he said. “I don’t want any problems. I want to see negotiation.”

He also called on Sokha to be released due to lack of evidence, saying that the former party president would “not do anything to harm society or cause any violence at all” if he were free.

Vannol echoed that call, comparing the former CNRP president’s case to that of former Khmer National United Party leader Nhek Bun Chhay, who was released from prison earlier this week under court supervision.

Regarding the possibility that Sokha, like Bun Chhay, could be released from prison, Eysan said the decision was the court’s responsibility.

“Don't link case A to case B,” he said.

Vannol also said that although his party was boycotting the election, it stood ready to re-join “if the situation gets better”.

“I believe the Prime Minister will find a good solution to ease the political tension, and I still have hope until election day that all political parties can join the election, including the opposition,” Vannol said.

When Ham was asked if he, like Vannol, thought the political situation would improve before the upcoming election, he declined to give an opinion.

“I cannot predict everything,” Ham said. “If I could, I would be a fortune teller at Wat Phnom.”