Though the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s president is in self-imposed exile and its acting leader confined to party headquarters, the opposition continues to pose a threat and must be further “attacked” and “weakened”, the ruling party’s top officials decided at a meeting this week.
The remarks – which suggest the Cambodian People’s Party will apply further legal pressure to its opponents through the judiciary, something it repeatedly denies doing – were included in the official minutes for the party’s Tuesday central committee meeting.
“The CNRP is having a crisis of its machine’s leadership and faces many internal issues . . . [we must] continue to make it weaker through our strategy, encourage other parties to participate a lot in the election and push the implementation of the court’s procedure for all illegal actions of leaders, officers and activists of the opposition party,” the document states.
“Before the election and after the election, our party had to face attacks from the opposition, but, so far, it has changed. We are attacking while the opposition party is … holding on. [We must] take the opportunity and attack, strongly and jointly.”
According to the document, the CPP also must “strongly oppose” any action that uses “the umbrella of democracy and fake human rights” to attack the government, an apparent reference to critical elements of civil society, which have rallied against the recent jailing of several human rights workers.
To prevent a “colour revolution” and to protect the government and the people’s “harmony”, the party must also “strengthen the state’s equipment of power, especially the armed forces and the court”, it further states.
Contacted yesterday, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan denied the party was targeting political opponents. He said the statement about “pushing” the courts simply meant the party wanted ongoing cases concluded as soon as possible so the two parties could resume dialogue.
“We want it to be fast, but it is up to the court,” Eysan said.
However, coming amid a deteriorating, and what one CNRP lawmaker termed “dangerous”, political atmosphere, the CPP’s deliberations on Tuesday added more fuel to fears that even harsher measures are impending.
On Sunday tens of thousands are expected to descend on Phnom Penh for the funeral procession of anti-government critic Kem Ley, who was gunned down in broad daylight on July 10, in what many have characterised as an assassination.
Meanwhile, several armoured personnel carriers and tanks were spotted this week being transported toward the capital, with social media users sharing clips of the convoy online.
Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat yesterday maintained the equipment, withdrawn from the Thai border, merely required repairs and storage during rainy season, and the relocation was not connected to the upcoming march.
“It is normal,” Socheat said, adding that tensions on the border had eased, allowing for the hardware to be moved.
However, a source in the diplomatic community who is regularly briefed on military affairs, said he doubted that explanation. “They’ve had them up there for several wet seasons, and there’s been no need for them for about three years,” the diplomat said.
Meanwhile yesterday, more than 200 members of the National Military Police, including its chief, Sao Sokha, met at their Phnom Penh headquarters to address “security and safety” in the wake of Ley’s murder.
In what National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy characterised as an effort to allay citizens’ concerns in the wake of the killing, more provincial gendarmerie troops will be deployed around the capital, though Hy did not specific how many.
“The military police always have to be ready, and they must patrol to control the situation,” Hy said.
The military are simultaneously investigating an alleged “coup plot” made by an unnamed man in a video posted on YouTube.
Yesterday the Denmark-based Khmer Liberation Front released a statement claiming the man was a member but denying he wanted to instigate a coup, stating he just wanted people to “wake up and think about national issues”.
Socheat, of the Defence Ministry, said the man had been identified but declined to reveal further details. “We are working on it,” he said.
As tensions rise, the fate of the CNRP’s acting president Kem Sokha also remains precarious.
After avoiding an arrest attempt by heavily armed police in late May, the politician, who is charged with ignoring a summons to appear as a witness in a case related to his alleged affair with a hairdresser, has remained holed up at party headquarters.
Official spokespeople for the CNRP – which has vowed to stage mass demonstrations if Sokha is arrested – were unreachable to comment yesterday.
However, a senior lawmaker, who requested anonymity, said members were on edge and feared Sunday’s procession could be used as a “pretext” for a further crackdown, following months of what has been labelled by the European Union a campaign of “judicial harassment” by the state against political opponents.
“Everything is pretext for a crackdown, and we cannot resist if Hun Sen decides to finish with Kem Sokha,” the lawmaker said.
“We still hope that the [Tuesday] statements by [US assistant secretary of state for human rights, democracy and labour] Tom Malinowski and other pressure from the EU maybe is enough to convince them not to cross the Rubicon.
“I’m scared that at the same time of arresting Kem Sokha, they will arrest other leaders of the party, and what happens next is difficult to see . . . when [the CPP] go forward, they cannot go back, there will be no dialogue anymore.”