As the Cambodia National Rescue Party prepares for an extraordinary congress on Thursday to select new leaders in the wake of Sam Rainsy’s resignation, a covertly recorded conversation of a lawmaker discussing his preferred candidate for the deputy president role has been leaked online.
Yet again raising questions of phone-tapping of government opponents, the purported conversation between CNRP lawmaker Lim Kim Ya and Sam Rainsy Party official Hing Yoeun suggests party spokesman Yim Sovann and former SRP president Kong Korm, who retired in 2015, are among contenders for the party’s number-two role. Acting CNRP president Kem Sokha is presumed to be named leader.
However, reached yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said no decision on final candidates would be made until Wednesday, when the party’s permanent committee meets to put forward a list.
She said the names would then be sent to the steering committee on the same day before a decision was made at the party congress.
“Anybody can talk about who he or she thinks should be a candidate, that’s totally fine; that shows you how many of us us are available or credible or electable or could be on the list,” Sochua said.
“It’s not a party of one or two people; that’s healthy that people talk, but to say this person has been proposed officially, no, there isn’t such a thing.”
Sochua declined to discuss the leak, though noted such “tactics” showed the party was considered a credible threat as elections approached.
In the audio, released by Facebook user “Seiha” – a page also responsible for leaking several other covertly recorded conversations attempting to tie opposition politicians to affairs – Kim Ya discusses meeting with and encouraging Korm to throw his hat in the ring, suggesting he would be a better fit than Sovann, who he says would have “no influence on [Kem Sokha]”.
Reached yesterday, Kim Ya, who did not deny it was his voice on the recording, confirmed his preference for Korm, citing his “political experience”, adding that he would put his name forward.
“He is well known by people, they respect him and he is clever when it comes to solving political problems,” Kim Ya said.
The politician said he was not troubled by the leak personally, but added that what it represented was concerning.
“This is not called a country with the rule of law, is not a democratic country. This is a wild country,” Kim Ya said. “So I worry for citizens, but for me there is no problem.”
Reached yesterday, Korm said he would accept the role of deputy president if he was chosen.
“If acting president Kem Sokha, who will become the president at the upcoming congress, and most of the permanent committee propose me, according to the statutes, I would not reject [the post],” he said.
Speaking yesterday, a CNRP official, who wished to remain anonymous, suggested party spokesman Sovann, who was unreachable yesterday, would indeed be nominated for the number-two role.
He also dismissed a previous report in local media that the party would name three deputy presidents. “According to the spirit of Manila, there should be only one president and only one deputy president,” he said, referring to the meeting in the Philippines where Sam Rainsy’s SRP and Sokha’s Human Rights Party first announced their merger in 2012.
Living abroad since 2015 to avoid arrest, Rainsy resigned this month to avoid his convictions being used to dissolve the party under a controversial legal amendment passed by the National Assembly last week.
Though the party initially said it would formalise its leadership at a congress next year, Sochua said it needed to select a president in order to submit its candidate lists for commune elections this month.
The legislative change and Rainsy’s convictions are widely believed to be political attacks to weaken the opposition ahead of upcoming elections.