Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Ou Chanrath predicted on Tuesday that Sam Rainsy’s contentious new position as acting president may cause an inevitable “split” in the party.
Meanwhile, Chan Chen, a lawyer for CNRP president Kem Sokha, currently on bail awaiting trial on treason charges, slammed a Tuesday statement from pro-Rainsy senior party leadership as a serious insult to the “bravery of those in the political battle”.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP member of the National Assembly for Kandal province, said the rift between the pro-Sokha and pro-Rainsy factions would eventually cause the party to break apart if it continued.
Sam Rainsy, the co-founder of the Supreme Court-dissolved CNRP, was nominated acting president of the opposition early this month at an international conference in the US, and on Sunday he said he had taken on the role with “full rights”.
Ou Chanrath said unless party unity was restored soon, the CNRP would “split”.
“If this disagreement continues, it will be difficult to prevent the [split]. If the internal problem happens again and again, the split will happen."
“The politicians can bear with this problem again and again, but if it happens too often, they will not be able to bear it any longer. The people will also become disillusioned,” he said.
The statement, signed by CNRP deputy directors Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang, on Tuesday claimed that the majority of CNRP officials and activists had chosen Sam Rainsy for the role because he was qualified to be party leader in terms of history and popularity.
The pro-Rainsy camp at the international conference in Atlanta, Georgia, argued that the CNRP needed an acting president to reignite it after it had been dissolved by the court and its president arrested for treason.
“To ensure the CNRP has a good leader who can struggle effectively to demand the release of Kem Sokha, maintain the hope of Cambodian people who want positive change and prevent a deadlock, we have to initiate this move to make sure the party is going forward,” the statement said.
The statement also expressed disappointment and claimed that the party’s permanent committee could not call meetings “because members in Cambodia are living in fear”, with some feeling the need to stay out of the spotlight. This meant the party’s by-laws could not be applied as normal.
‘Clear and strong leader’
Pol Ham, a former CNRP vice-president, has been used as an example of those too afraid to publicly air their opinions from Cambodia.
“Sam Rainsy will fulfil all obligations as acting president during the period until Kem Sokha has his full freedom restored and is personally able to express himself in public."
“In the current period, we need a clear and strong CNRP leader who can achieve the party’s goal, which is to resurrect democracy in Cambodia,” the statement claimed.
Writing on Facebook on Monday, Chen said that recent statements from Sam Rainsy, “portrayed as opinions of all Cambodians in Cambodia”, are not valid “because they are excuses to deceive party supporters living abroad and to gain him support in order to conduct a party coup to gain power.
This act, he said, is an insult to Kem Sokha’s conscience.
Chen added: “This is a serious insult to the bravery, sacrifice and wisdom of all those who struggle in the political battle in the Kingdom, such as Kem Sokha, independent political analysts, lawyers and especially CNRP activists.”
Kong Korm, a former top CNRP adviser, said Sam Rainsy’s nomination had violated the party’s by-laws and was reached without consensus, and so was “not legitimate”.
He said the appointment would cause a “deadlock” in the CNRP’s leadership.
“[Any decision] needs to get agreement from both sides. When there is no agreement from both sides, the decision is not legitimate."
“The CNRP’s leadership will experience deadlock and the situation will become worse [for them] because Sam Rainsy usually [antagonises] the government,” he said.
Korm, who at one point was president of the former Sam Rainsy Party and is preparing to become an adviser to the Khmer Will Party (KWP) of his youngest son Kong Monika, blasted Rainsy on Sunday for “thinking only of his own interests”.