Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy announced over the weekend the creation of a new “movement” to counter an ongoing political crackdown, though concerns were raised from within the now-dissolved CNRP that it could further divide the party and put jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha at risk.
“We, the undersigned . . . believe that the current situation in Cambodia is untenable,” reads the document announcing the creation of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement, signed by Rainsy, former Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy leaders Eng Chhay Eng and Mu Sochua, and some ex-parliamentarians.
While short on details of the purpose of the group, which is not itself a political party, Rainsy said in a speech in New York City yesterday that it would be intentionally “flexible” and “more widespread” than the CNRP, with the latitude to call for demonstrations.
“No one can dissolve it,” he said. “When we were the party, we could not appeal for people to protest or demonstrate . . . If anyone appealed like that, they would trouble us badly . . . Calling for that under the CNRP was something we could not do, but as a movement we can.”
Since the CNRP was dissolved in a near-universally condemned Supreme Court decision in mid-November, it has not called for any public demonstrations in response, and many of its senior leaders have fled the country. Its president, Kem Sokha, has been awaiting trial on “treason” charges in a Tbong Khmum prison since his arrest in September.
Rainsy’s announcement seemed to divide opinion within the opposition along familiar lines. Former Sam Rainsy Party members appeared in support, while members of Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party expressed displeasure, saying that the movement undermined continued efforts by the CNRP to remain relevant while potentially putting Sokha in danger. The two parties merged in 2012 to form the CNRP.
Hing Soksan, the former secretary-general of HRP, called the new group “ridiculous” in a Facebook post.
“I am not interested in that because I want to do political struggle only under the CNRP umbrella,” he told The Post.
Yem Ponhearith, a former HRP lawmaker, condemned the decision to invoke the CNRP and Sokha’s name. “Any individual has the right to create an association, NGO or movement,” he said, speaking from France alongside Sokha’s daughter, Kem Monovithya. However, Ponhearith worried that Sokha and other CNRP members still in Cambodia could be punished for the group’s actions.
“In that CNRM statement, there is the name of Kem Sokha but he does not know that. If they do activities that cause problems, Kem Sokha would be responsible,” he added.
Rainsy posted another statement on Facebook yesterday for clarification, which seemed to simultaneously attempt to distance the group from the party while also closely associating the two. “The National Rescue Movement will provide warmth and hope again to all CNRP activists and supporters,” he wrote, adding that civil society members can also join as it is not a political party.
It then goes on to say once its objectives are achieved, the “movement” will “dissolve itself” and reintegrate into the CNRP. Neither Rainsy nor Sochua responded to requests for comment yesterday.
Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said yesterday that the group amounted to an “illegal” organisation formed by “rebels” and led by a convict – a reference to Rainsy’s numerous politically tinged court convictions. Eysan also revelled in the apparent schism between Rainsy and Sokha supporters.
“Even though they are CNRP, they are in two groups. One is water and other is oil – even when they try to put it in one bottle they still split from each other,” he said.
Political analyst Meas Nee said he thought the group’s formation might be “psychological”, and intended to reassure supporters who view the CNRP as being too passive. “CNRP supporters at the grassroots level have described the situation as living without a head,” he said. “At least they will know that their leader is not sleeping.”
Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda