Opposition leader Sam Rainsy faced a backlash after narrowing his prediction that “99 per cent” of banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) politicians would not seek the return of their political rights, saying “only two cheap, short-sighted officials” would do so.
Rainsy, whose nomination as “acting president” at an international conference last month put pressure on party unity with CNRP president Kem Sokha bailed on treason charges, was attacked for his comments on Wednesday.
Senior former CNRP lawmakers slammed Rainsy’s words as “insulting” and likely to cause an irreversible split in the party, while one said 60 per cent of the barred 118 officials remain loyal to Sokha.
Rainsy took to Facebook on Saturday to reiterate that those requesting the return of their political rights after a change to the law comes into effect would be serving the interests of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“Only two cheap, short-sighted officials [will do so], the other 116 out of the 118 who were banned from political activity will not be cheated or sell themselves to Hun Sen."
“We all have to know that Hun Sen cannot bear the pressure from the EU, who are [threatening] to put on trade sanctions to make the Cambodian economy meet with a severe crisis if Hun Sen does not follow the EU’s requirements,” Rainsy said.
However, one senior former CNRP official, who has remained in Cambodia and asked not to be named, claimed that 60 of the banned 118 politicians remain loyal to Sokha.
“If Kem Sokha requests the restoration of his political rights, some supporters of both Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy will also request their political rights returned,” the official said.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP National Assembly member for Takeo province and one of the barred 118 opposition politicians, said on Wednesday that Rainsy’s message was an “insult” that put pressure on his own party members.
He said such comments would split the party. Chanrath said Rainsy should respect the decision of individual members in deciding whether to request a lifting of their ban.
“Insulting each other won’t bring happiness to Cambodian society. It will lead to a split that can’t be fixed. I don’t understand his strategy in putting pressure in advance on those who may disagree with him. We don’t want to see such insults,” he said.
Chanrath said he knew of CNRP officials who were considering requesting the lifting of their ban when the amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties was signed off by King Norodom Sihamoni, despite this being deemed by Rainsy as a “party betrayal”. He declined to reveal the names.
Kong Bora, among the 118 and son of former CNRP adviser and vehement critic of Rainsy Kong Korm, on Monday hit back at the opposition party co-founder, saying he could not countenance Rainsy’s “treasonous” behaviour.
“I am ready to request a return of my political rights after the amendment to the Law on Political Parties comes into effect. I, Kong Bora, cannot continue with treasonous activities and betraying the people. [I] serve the country and the people not vice-versa,” he said on Facebook.
Another CNRP official Kong Kimhak said: “[This is] only what Rainsy has claimed. He cannot make this decision for all. I cannot speculate on how many officials will request a pardon. We must wait and see. We are not declaring our position just yet,” he said.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, another of the 118, said Sokha must first be released before he requested a political pardon.
However, Prince Thomico said he did not support Rainsy’s language. He said requesting a political pardon was a decision for the individual.
“I respect the right of the individual in making their own future. I cannot say that they will be betraying [the party], I don’t support this idea. These accusations, this smearing, I don’t support it. I respect the decision of the individual."
“So I don’t support such language, especially when it comes from someone in a higher position. Accusing someone of being a betrayer is the language of splitting, not unifying. Unifying is to respect an individual’s rights,” he said.
Former CNRP lawmakers Mao Monyvann and Mu Sochua, who was vice-president of the party, could not be reached by The Post for comment on Wednesday.