WITH King Norodom Sihamoni having signed off on the amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties, 40 banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials have expressed their positions, with more than half vowing to not request the government return their political rights.
A few said they had given no thought to the matter.
The Post spoke to 40 of the 118 high-ranking CNRP officials banned from political activity for five years when the Supreme Court dissolved the opposition party two months after its president, Kem Sokha, was arrested for treason.
More than half said they would resolutely not make a request to have their political rights returned, with some saying they were demanding Sokha’s treason charge be dropped.
Others said that along with Sokha’s charge being dropped, they also demanded that the banned officials have their rights returned as a group and not individually.
Twenty-three CNRP officials, including prominent figures like ex-deputy president Mu Sochua, former co-vice-president Eng Chhai Eang, lawmakers Long Ry, Ho Vann, Lim Kim Ya, Kong Saphea, Ngim Nheng, Yont Tharo, Thach Setha, Khimsour Phirith and Ky Vandeth, and many members of the party’s committee board said they would not make a request.
Sochua told The Post that she would not request political rehabilitation because such rights were enshrined in the Cambodian Constitution.
“My political rights, as well as the rights of my colleagues, were wrongly denied with the dissolution of the CNRP."
“We have committed no crime. Our full rights as citizens must be protected and are not for us to defend and petition for. The law is formulated and adopted by a one-party state which is unconstitutional,” she said, adding that she would return to Cambodia and exercise her rights as a citizen.
Khimsour Phirith, a former CNRP lawmaker for Kampong Cham province, said he would not make a request because he had not committed any wrongdoing.
“I don’t need to request that anyone pardons me because I did nothing wrong. I worked at the National Assembly for 20 years. I never betrayed my nation and citizens. During the hearing [at the Supreme Court] I was not invited to testify and I don’t even recognise the verdict to this day,” he said.
Phirith said he would remain a normal citizen, stressing that he could survive by not being involved in politics like more than 10 million of his compatriots.
Yont Tharo, a former lawmaker for Banteay Meanchey province, said he had demands to be met before he would request rehabilitation, including allowing CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy to return to the Kingdom without arrest and the charge against Sokha being dropped.
“Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are as one,” he said, before praising Rainsy as a true rival to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Other officials demanded two conditions before they would request rehabilitation – the release of Sokha from his treason charge and that political rights be returned to the CNRP as a group.
In this category were Prince Sisowath Thomico, former lawmakers Kong Kimhak, Mao Monyvann, Ou Chanrath and Chiv Kata, youth leader Hing Soksan and several members of the committee board.
Phan Chansak, one of Sokha’s defence lawyers and also on the list of 118 banned CNRP officials, said the return of political rights should be done as a group.
“The spirit of the Supreme Court’s ruling was made as a group. If CNRP officials are required to make individual requests one by one, we [shouldn’t] do that because the court banned us as a group,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said he could not estimate how many of the 118 would make a request.
“But I can say that if they spurn such an offer of political rehabilitation, it would mean they still held on to their claim as to the illegitimacy of the Supreme Court’s five-year ban on their political activities,” he told The Post on Monday.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia, said: “I think less than 50 per cent [will make a request].
“If we look back at the commune councils case, there were many appeals for them to join [the CPP] by offering them positions in the commune councils. But among the more than 5,000 CNRP officials, there were less than a thousand [who did so]."
“They were local forces and they did not defect, so what will the [higher echelons] decide? It is difficult to predict,” he said.
Phea said those who decided not to make a request would continue their activities outside the country and wait for the green light to return from the government or through any political negotiations between the two parties.
“For now, if they don’t make the request, they will stay out of Cambodian politics for some time. For those who make a request, they will be going against Rainsy’s policy. I think they may walk on a different path from what [former] CNRP officials like Kong Korm and Kong Bora are doing,” he said.
Kong Korm has announced his intention to support the Khmer Will Party of his son Kong Monika should he have his political rights returned.
Phea said the banned CNRP officials now likely faced four paths – to join Rainsy, remain loyal to Sokha, create a new political party or join an existing one.