Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CNRP brass leave Cambodia, but back ‘soon’

CNRP brass leave Cambodia, but back ‘soon’

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay speaks to the press yesterday at CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay speaks to the press yesterday at CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

CNRP brass leave Cambodia, but back ‘soon’

Since the widely condemned arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha on “treason” charges this month, at least a dozen Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers have left the country, though a senior party official yesterday insisted they would “return soon”.

However, the absence of key figures at a crucial time for the party prompted observers to wonder whether their departure played into a strategy by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to weaken the opposition ahead of next year’s elections.

Among those who left the country for various reasons are CNRP Deputy President Eng Chhay Eang; lawmakers Ou Chanrith, Ho Vann, and Long Ry; and spokesmen Yim Sovann and Yem Ponhearith. This leaves the CNRP without the chairs of its executive, disciplinary and steering committees.

In a letter dated September 10, a US-based CNRP support group expressed their concern about lawmakers who had left the country, and requested them to return to the Kingdom immediately.

At a press conference yesterday morning, CNRP chief whip Son Chhay insisted the members would return soon. “There doesn’t seem to be any fear. Some are having missions abroad, some have to fulfil the party’s tasks abroad,” he said. “But they will return soon to continue [to move] our work forward.”

However, his colleague, Mao Monyvann, allowed that fear may have pushed some to leave – though he acknowledged that others had left prior to Sokha’s arrest, or for health reasons.

“[But some] also left because of political motivations – [they] can be worried too,” he said, adding that most should come back early October.

Chanrith, however, said he was “not sure” when he would return to Cambodia, and declined to comment on his reasons for being abroad. Other absent lawmakers could not be reached.

Ear Sophal, associate professor of diplomacy at Occidental College in Los Angeles, in an email raised doubts whether the party could continue its work with so much of its leadership overseas.

“It’s hard to imagine how it can function at all,” he said. “It’s like falling dominoes. Tip over the first couple and the rest will fall down.”

This also had wider implications, he said. “For some it will confirm that democracy was never there to begin with . . . For others it means the CNRP is looking more and more zombie-like, a party in name but with its leadership decapitated. I’m in this camp.”

But the CNRP’s Monyvann said this concern was unfounded. “There are more than 10 permanent committee members remaining, so there is no problem [for the party] to proceed. [We are] just a little bit tired,” he said.

However, Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, echoed Ear’s concerns, adding that this may have been part of the ruling party’s strategy all along. “[I]t will be very difficult for them to mount an effective campaign for next year’s election. This is precisely the CPP’s aim,” he said.

“Democracy has never really existed in Cambodia in a meaningful sense, but now, with strong backing from Beijing, the government is abandoning all pretence.”

But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan vehemently denied the accusation, maintaining those who suggested a ruling party plot were “troublemakers” who were “all CNRP supporters”.

“Bring them to jail, or kick them out of the country,” he said. “They’re all B.S. Bulls—!”

Additional reporting by Meas Sokchea and Mech Dara

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh authorities ban march for Human Rights Day

    Phnom Penh authorities have banned a planned march as local NGOs and workers’ unions gear up to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Monday, with a youth group leader saying they would march nonetheless. The UN

  • Phnom Penh’s Jet’s Container Night Market shuts down

    The famous Jet’s Container Night Market in central Phnom Penh has shut down due to the high cost of the land rental, company representatives claim. Jet’s Container Night Market is the largest such market in Phnom Penh. It operated for just over two

  • Hun Sen rejects ‘rift’ rumours spread by ‘stupid gangsters’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday denied a “rift” among top leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and rejected claims that Senate president Say Chhum and Interior Minister Sar Kheng were set to be removed from their positions as rumours spread by “gangsters”.

  • EU ambassador to Cambodia: Rights a ‘work in progress’

    The EU ambassador to Cambodia has called human rights “a work in progress” and said the 28-nation bloc has “carefully” noted last week’s statement by the government on taking further steps to strengthen democracy and the political sphere in the Kingdom. The EU marked