Following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ultimatum to Cambodia National Rescue Party officials to come over to his ruling Cambodian People’s Party or be banned from politics, CPP officials have launched what CNRP members have described as a local push to intimidate opposition officials into defecting.
With crucial national elections right around the corner, the CNRP is currently facing dissolution under the controversial newly amended Law on Political Parties after the Ministry of Interior filed a complaint to the Supreme Court accusing it of colluding with foreign powers to foment regime change.
The premier, meanwhile, has repeatedly warned that the dissolution is a fait accompli, and on Sunday presented CNRP members with the choice of either defecting to his party or being slapped with a five-year ban on participating in politics.
Mao Vibol, head of the CNRP’s Svay Rieng provincial executive committee, said that since the prime minister’s speech, ruling party officials had started intimidating local CNRP officials to join the CPP in order to keep their positions, but that only one commune councillor had given in.
“They said that if we do not join, the CNRP will be dissolved, but that the position from top to the bottom will be the same if we join with them,” he said. “But CNRP officials won’t join. We are willing to do farming instead.”
In Svay Rieng’s Chantrea district, CNRP Tuol Sdey commune council member Phom Than told a similar tale, saying that the commune chief had tried to push them to defect by telling them they would be able to keep their position and salary if they joined the CPP before the opposition party was dissolved.
“I’m determined not to sell out my conscience and will. They said that once the party is dissolved, we will lose the position,” he said. “I think that it is a strategy – intimidation or threat – to scare each commune councillor.”
In Kampong Cham, provincial CNRP executive committee head San Soeung said 13 officials had defected to the ruling party in the province. “They will use all types of tricks to persuade those to join the CPP, but our members, district and commune councillors keep refusing,” he said.
“The one who is the most afraid of the ghost, the ghost will haunt the most as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, Yim Phally, chief of Kokchak commune in Siem Reap town, said that town Governor So Platong had issued a letter ordering CNRP commune chiefs and council members to come to the town hall to listen to the premier’s speech.
“If I survive or die, it depends on the CNRP. I will not leave the 10,266 [CNRP voters in the commune]. If they dissolve [our party], they commit a mistake with the people, not me. But if I sell my head to CPP, it’s like I swear at those 10,266 people,” said Phally, who said she did not heed the letter.
Platong declined to comment yesterday, while Siem Reap Provincial Governor Khem Bun Song could not be reached.
But CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan rejected allegations of intimidation and claimed that officials were only campaigning in line with the party leader’s speech.
“We do not intimidate or scare, we just articulate the meaning and sentiment of the party president,” he said. “If they intimidate, they do not need to campaign . . . If they [wanted to] intimidate, they’d use the gun to point at them and bring them into the car and that is far easier!”
However, political analyst Meas Nee disagreed, saying the strategy was indeed a “form of intimidation”.
“In the past the intimidation was worse than this, now it’s only a psychological threat,” he said, noting the Kingdom’s history of political killings.
Nee declined to speculate as to whether the local push was part of a national party strategy, but noted there was a “strong link between the national and local level”.
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua, who fled the country after being warned of her imminent arrest, also characterised the moves as intimidation, and said she believed the campaign was part of a nationwide strategy by the CPP.
“The CPP does not do anything without the approval of the central committee,” she said.
However, Sochua argued that this strategy wasn’t successful, as only about 40 CNRP officials of more than 5,800 nationwide had defected, and wondered whether even Hun Sen himself had expected the ultimatum to garner many defections.
“It’s like a salesman pitch in which even the salesman himself doesn’t believe he can sell his product,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sochua maintained that she was “certain” the dissolution of the CNRP would have serious consequences, including economic and targeted sanctions, and the freezing of foreign assets by the US government. The resulting instability, she added, would make it difficult for the CPP to survive.
“In the long run [the dissolution of the CNRP] is not serving the CPP,” she said. “The only way is for Mr Hun Sen to prepare the CPP, to prepare himself for the next elections . . . Be confident with what you have.”