Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday warned that those in his court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who “play [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s game” and resume their political careers when a proposed law change comes into effect will “betray” the party.
Rainsy was recently nominated “acting president” of the CNRP while the incumbent Kem Sokha is on bail awaiting trial on treason charges.
The party’s pro-Sokha faction on Wednesday slammed Rainsy’s “unethical and vile action”.
The National Assembly, which is made up entirely of ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lawmakers, is to hold a plenary session on Thursday to debate a proposed amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties.
The amendment could pave the way for former senior leaders of the CNRP who have been banned for five years by the Supreme Court to return to the political stage.
However, Hun Sen on Wednesday warned that only barred politicians who had respected the court’s decision to remain out of politics would be able to request a return of their rights, while those who violated it would face a prison term of two and a half years.
Rainsy took to Facebook on Tuesday to warn the other 117 former CNRP politicians who were barred from political activity by the Supreme Court in November last year.
He said if any of them took advantage of the law change to have their political rights returned, they would ultimately “betray” the party.
“We wait and see who among the 118 [barred] former CNRP officials will want to get their political rights back, but we see Kem Sokha detained by Hun Sen because our president is charged with treason,” Rainsy wrote.
“People want to be free without thinking about the fate of Kem Sokha and our party – those people [who take advantage of the law change] will walk on the path designed by Hun Sen, and they also agree to play the game designed by Hun Sen. Those people are not stupid, but they will start to betray the CNRP.”
“I would like to ask the 118 banned CNRP: Why do you want political rights at this time? Hun Sen has not permitted the CNRP to operate again and Hun Sen is continuing to keep president Kem Sokha hostage?
“People who agree to take their political rights from Hun Sen and resume their careers or create a new party become foolish in accordance with Hun Sen’s intention,” he stressed.
However, pro-Kem Sokha CNRP leaders later issued a statement hitting out at Rainsy’s “provocative words “.
“This is an unethical and vile action by Sam Rainsy after he conducted a party coup in early December and declared himself as the nonsense acting president of the CNRP at a world conference going against the party’s bylaws."
“CNRP would like to condemn the inciteful and provocative words of Sam Rainsy calling the people requesting a pardon betrayers of the party,” Wednesday’s statement said.
Meanwhile, Hun Sen warned that barred politicians could face prison as well as have a chance of having their bans lifted when the proposed amendment takes effect.
“People need to bear in mind that those opposing the Supreme Court’s verdict will not get political rights and will face jail because a violation of a Supreme Court verdict will result in a sentence of two-and-a-half-years in prison after the law change takes effect,” the prime minister told nearly 20,000 garment workers in Kampong Speu province’s Samrong Tong district on Wednesday.
The prime minister explained that the amended Law on Political Parties means dissolved parties and their banned leaders would have recourse to request a pardon as long as they were deemed to have respected the court’s ruling.
“The remaining option after a study is that there is an option relating to the right of the prime minister to request the King to lift the ban on taking part in politics,” he said.
He said banned politicians would have to first directly send a written petition to him or Sar Kheng, the Minister of Interior, and they then could make a request to the King.