The Ministry of Interior has claimed that no Cambodians have joined a former opposition leader’s new "movement", and warned that any who do will face legal consequences.
Spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the Interior Ministry is “looking for them”, but not a single supporter of the newly formed Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) had been found in the whole country.
“There is no CNRP [Cambodia National Rescue Party] or CNRM structure in the country, and if there is one, the law will be applied suddenly. There is no one, and no one supports it,” Sopheak maintained.
He did not specify which law would be invoked in arresting alleged supporters, but government officials have - without evidence - blasted the movement as a “rebel” group and a “terrorist” network, despite its professed dedication to nonviolence.
The CNRM was launched last month by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy in response to the Supreme Court’s controversial pre-election dissolution of the CNRP, the country’s only viable opposition party. The relatively young CNRP had made huge gains against the ruling Cambodian People's Party since its formation in 2012, taking 44 percent of the popular vote in the 2013 national elections and a similar amount in last year's commune elections.
But despite some 3 million people being suddenly disenfranchised by the Supreme Court's decision, Sopheak today said that the average Cambodian did not care about the political crackdown.
“No one cares who goes where, who is jailed and what is dissolved … They think about the price of the land, cassava and corn, whether the price increases or not. The workers are happy with their salary of $170,” he said, referring to a recent salary bump for garment workers.
Sopheak added that opposition figures with dual nationalities like Rainsy and former Deputy President Mu Sochua could remain abroad indefinitely, but others will need to return eventually, and will be subsequently arrested.
Despite Sopheak’s claims, interviews with former CNRP members painted a different picture, with three separate high-ranking local leaders claiming to have joined the movement.
One anonymous source said he has been in contact with CNRP leaders abroad.
“I do not worry about their intimidation or threats because it’s normal thing for the ruling CPP … They knew they would 100 percent lose if they did not dissolve us,” he added.
He went on to claim that many people would heed a call to action from the movement.
Another agreed, explaining that people are not quiet because they agree with the government, but because they are afraid. A third compared Hun Sen’s regime to the murderous Khmer Rouge.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Sopheak’s threats themselves were proof that the government worried people would openly join the movement if not for fear of legal persecution.
“The situation in the country may be calm on the surface, but underneath it there is apparently a lot of turmoil,” he said.