Jailed former Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha does not support a new movement established by his CNRP predecessor Sam Rainsy, his lawyer and close adviser confirmed on Saturday.
Rainsy announced the creation of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement last week, a group ostensibly designed specifically to call for protests in the future against the government’s political crackdown, which saw the CNRP dissolved and Sokha arrested. The reaction from former party officials has been mixed, with support appearing divided along familiar political lines.
Former Sam Rainsy Party officials, like vice presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang, have shown public support for its creation, while former members of Sokha’s Human Rights Party have criticised the movement, saying it further jeopardises Sokha, who is awaiting trial on widely decried charges of “treason”. The two parties merged in 2012 to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
“The Honorable Kem Sokha, MP [member of parliament] and largest opposition CNRP leader has stated his political position concerning the newly-formed movement. He will neither join nor support the movement. CNRP represents 3 millions of voters which he continues to defend,” Muth Chantha, director of Sokha’s cabinet, wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
Peng Heng, one of Sokha’s lawyers who visited him on Friday, confirmed today to The Post that Sokha is firmly opposed.
“He won’t join and he won’t support any new movement. He said he will stand with the will of the 3 million who have voted for CNRP in the past,” Heng said, in reference to the party’s support in the 2013 national elections.
Rainsy contended, however, that Sokha was merely withholding support to protect himself.
“He cannot express his support for, and even less join, the Cambodia National Rescue Movement . . . It would be very dangerous for him to do so given the fact that he is in [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s hands while the CNRM’s declared objective is to bring an end to Hun Sen’s authoritarian rule,” he said in an email on Saturday.
“I appreciate the effort of Kem Sokha’s lawyer to confuse Hun Sen’s CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] so as to distract their attention away from our jailed president,” he added.
Rainsy went on to say that other prominent opposition figures had shown support for the movement, but that he asked them “not to express their support publicly” for “security reasons”.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, however, said the disagreement falls along lines that have historically divided the two leaders.
“CNRP is two parties merging, but its organisation, leadership and structure is not one party yet,” he said.
Mong Hay said Rainsy has been more interested in appealing to the international community for help, while Sokha wants to effect change locally while still under the banner of the CNRP.
“The dissolution is just on paper, but the mind will not be dissolved,” he said, explaining that Sokha supporters may see the new movement as a tacit endorsement of the party’s dissolution.
“There have been some signs in the opinions and stances for a long time. Now, there is a rift, so that’s why I conclude that the creation of the National Rescue Movement is the beginning of the end of the CNRP,” he said.
Speaking to supporters in France on Saturday, Rainsy said the movement only exists to support the CNRP.
“We are stuck now, and we need something new to pull and open the way . . . I have one hat on, which is the CNRP, and I keep wearing it even though when I do things . . . they are under another hat,” he said.
Updated: Monday 22 January, 6:33am