The Human Rights Party closed yesterday of its own accord, officially removing itself from any conversation about potential challengers to the ruling party in the absence of the CNRP.
The move was met with mixed responses yesterday – with some lamenting the loss of a “back-up” opposition election contender, while others argued the party at least would not be playing the pawn in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party games.
Founded over 10 years ago by currently imprisoned opposition leader Kem Sokha, the HRP merged with the Sam Rainsy Party in 2012 to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
It has long said that it would disband following the 2017 commune elections, though the CNRP’s surprise dissolution last year at the government’s behest complicated the party’s plans of rejoining the main opposition.
HRP President Son Soubert said a permanent committee vote took place on Sunday to decide the party’s fate, with seven votes to four in favour of dissolving, and a letter was filed to the Ministry of Interior yesterday.
Soubert said there was “no pressure” to disband but that most of its members had been absorbed into the now-defunct CNRP and the HRP did not want to give any credence to flawed elections.
“The dictator regime will not succeed. It is like the Khmer Rouge,” Soubert said.
Kem Monovithya, a CNRP official and daughter of Sokha, elaborated that to keep the party running “would only play into the façade of a fake multi-party picture”.
“[The] CNRP stance is very clear, we are calling for the reinstatement of CNRP,” she said via message. “We are not going back to HRP or SRP as our opponent wishes.”
Opposition deputy leader Mu Sochua said the HRP would continue to symbolise human rights, and that its dissolution amounted to “political persecution” by the ruling CPP.
The Grassroots Democracy Party last week called for the HRP and Candlelight Party (formerly SRP) to rejoin forces for the election. Candlelight Party President Teav Vannol said yesterday that his party would “wait and see” if the political crisis improved before it would commit to either joining or boycotting the July 29 election.
While GDP Secretary-General Sam Inn agreed that there was no logical reason to keep the two smaller parties intact before the CNRP was dissolved, the elimination of the opposition party was a game-changer.
“Of course we need to demand free and fair election processes,” he said. “But we also do not see any other better option than joining the election.”
“Cambodia suffered a lot from the violent regime. All regime changes took place through violence . . . If we boycott and do not face the elections, what option do we have?”
Some social media users expressed dismay at what they saw as the HRP falling on its sword.
“I regret the decision to dissolve the HRP like this. In a democratic society, politicians should not shut down its existence like this,” said Facebook user Chhoeun Chhum.
Political analyst Ou Virak said he had expected the HRP to endure as a back-up plan, and called the “all or nothing” ultimatum “bold”.
“I think the strategy or thinking behind it is that they want to pressure the Cambodian government, to say ‘there’s no alternative’ . . . Cambodians might hold onto hope about Kem Sokha [rejoining his old party], but they’ve taken away that option, that hope,” he said.
“You can either reinstate the CNRP or you don’t have any real opposition . . . It’s a gamble.”
Yet CPP spokesman Suos Yara was unfazed by the prospects of criticism of a shrinking democratic space. “Self dissolution of the party has nothing to do with one party system,” he said in a message.