Amid an “aggressive” push by the ruling party to woo Cambodians abroad led by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, recent moves suggest the opposition is taking no chances in letting a traditionally strong grip on the diaspora slip through its fingers.
In December, senior Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang embarked on a 25-day criss-cross tour of North America, while popular singer and opposition activist Sophorn Larry is also meeting supporters across the continent.
Though the party maintains it is “not concerned” by a concerted CPP push, a letter from one of the party’s main North American fundraising networks in October specifically asked the party to dispatch the duo to counter recent trips by Manet, saying the ruling party’s “aggressive” drive on to its turf needs to be “dealt with”.
“We believe that Mr. Sophorn Larry will help draw youth supporters, energize our base in preparation for the election 2017-2018,” the letter by Cambodia National Rescue Party of North America (CNRP NA) secretary-general Pretty Ma reads.
“The CPP Youth under Hun Manet is working aggressively to recruit members here in Montreal and Toronto. Mr Hun is planning a trip to Montreal in January, 2016. The local CPPs are preparing for his visit. We need to deal with this political incursion.”
Speaking yesterday, Ma said the CNRP NA paid more than $5,000 for Chhay Eang’s tour, which included about a dozen events on both coasts, while another fundraising group, the Cambodia National Rescue Party United States of America, backed Larry’s visit.
While the North American diaspora remain “highly pro-CNRP”, it would be naive to ignore Manet’s efforts at wooing the younger demographic, he said.
“In the past, it does not seem the CPP gave a lot of importance to those abroad, but there’s been a shift in strategy,” Ma said on the phone.
“We are monitoring and preparing, because we believe that the support of people abroad has long-term implications if we don’t really take care of our base. We have to look long term.”
In recent months, Manet, the prime minister’s eldest son, who was appointed chairman of the party’s Overseas Youth Working Group last year, has visited Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday could not confirm whether Manet would soon travel to Canada.
Manet, a 38-year-old senior military officer who graduated from West Point, was unreachable yesterday.
Manet’s tour of Europe, according to his comments to Cambodian state media, is “without political discrimination”, though it is meant to “strengthen the relations with the CPP youths there and to meet some officials of those countries who work with Cambodian communities”.
In its national congress earlier this month, the CPP laid out its plans to counter opposition “propaganda” abroad, including appointing 70 new people to its apparatus overseas, creating eight new overseas branches and reshuffling its existing structure.
“We have organized a party committee in Canada and England, added members to party committees in Australia and France and reshuffled the director of committees in the USA, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium,” the agenda reads.
“[We have] created eight party branches including in India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam and built and strengthened membership in regions that have Cambodian populations such as Australia, Norway France, the US and Canada.”
The party, which also last year tasked its ambassadors to advocate for the CPP while off duty, notes a focus on fostering youth activists abroad to penetrate student and workers’ movements, according to the agenda.
Chhay Eang yesterday maintained that his trip was not in response to the CNRP-NA invite.
He said he was not concerned about Manet’s campaigning and said it was not a topic of his talks while abroad, saying his task was to inform supporters of the current political situation and the party’s policy.
“If the ruling party had confidence in people overseas, it would support [allowing] them to vote” from abroad, Chhay Eang added. The CNRP draws significant amounts of funds from its networks abroad.
Sam Rainsy Party Senator Teav Vannol, who helped coordinate fundraising for the 2013 national campaign, estimated about 60 per cent of campaign cash came from the diaspora.