Amid an increasingly tense political environment, members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party yesterday seized the opportunity to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the merger that brought the party into existence.
More than 1,000 supporters turned up at party headquarters to hear speeches by CNRP acting president Kem Sokha, who is holed up in the building to avoid arrest, and self-exiled party leader Sam Rainsy, who spoke via video link from France.
The two men – who both face legal cases widely decried as politically motivated – praised the endurance and trajectory of the party, which won 55 of the National Assembly’s 123 seats at the disputed 2013 election, shaking the ruling Cambodian People’s Party grip on parliament.
“We dare to say that we are on the right track, because our unity, though attempts have been made to break it, is unbreakable and is the strong point of the CNRP,” Sokha said.
Rainsy doubled down on criticism of the CPP, accusing them of election fraud in 2013 and using the courts and violence to intimidate opponents.
The CPP has repeatedly denied accusations it uses the judiciary to target its political opponents, something party spokesman Sok Eysan maintained yesterday, calling the party’s legal problems an “internal” issue.
The Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party finally joined in 2012 after years of merger speculation, which was often undercut by disagreements between the two leaders.
In the time since, Prime Minister Hun Sen has often been accused of trying to play the two men against each other in a bid to divide and conquer.
Speaking yesterday, political observer Ok Serei Sopheak said the union’s endurance reflected Rainsy and Sokha’s political maturity, as both politicians realised they had no other choice.
“There are no other options, each of them know that in spite of serious differences in terms of background, personality, character, vision and concepts of politics, because of their political calculations and maturity, they have to stick together,” Sopheak said.
“Otherwise, they will have nothing.”
The political analyst said the pair’s “strange” current dynamic – self-exile and “virtually imprisoned” – would prove a tough test as the 2017 commune elections approach, particularly when it comes to managing structural issues and the possibility of incorporating other parties.
Sam Rainsy Party Senator Teav Vannol yesterday said while there were inevitably conflicts between the SRP and HRP factions, often at a grassroots level, the current process of selecting candidates for next year’s ballot was running “smoothly”.
“We look for the best candidate; we have no quota from SRP or HRP,” Vannol said.