With the national elections approaching, a Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman said “many thousands” of former members of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have joined it.
However, watchdogs and ex-CNRP officials have voiced doubts about this, claiming the comment is merely an “old fashioned” ploy that has been used many times in past elections.
Last weekend, Fresh News reported that former members of the CNRP had defected, and on Sunday it was reported that Say Sam Al, a member of the CPP’s central committee and the minister of environment, prepared a greeting ceremony to welcome over 600 new members in Tbong Khmum province. It said most of the defectors were previously from the CNRP.
On Saturday, the news agency further reported that Sok Phal, a member of the CPP’s central committee and general director of the General Department of Immigration at the Ministry of Interior, had arranged an event in Battambang province to welcome 2,200 new members from the CNRP and other parties.
Commenting on the matter, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said “thousands” of former CNRP members had defected to the CPP since the opposition party was dissolved by the Supreme Court last year.
“We are open to anyone who wants to join the CPP, and lately, a huge number of former opposition party members have joined, and we have held many [defection ceremonies]. Based on observation, the new members are in the thousands,” Eysan said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen recently said in a speech that his party has about 5 million members nationwide. However, Eysan said it is not certain that all CPP members will vote for their party in the July 29 national polls.
“People can be members but change their minds. Sometimes, they become unhappy with issues that affect them. Only good policies can keep them with us,” he said.
Eysan said the ruling party did not coerce former opposition party officials to defect. Rather, they did so willingly as they believe in the CPP’s leadership.
“We are open to new members, so if they want to join us, surely we will accept them. But we do not go out to force other party members to join,” he said.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP lawmaker, said he is not surprised by reports of defections because, fake or not, the announcements have been heard many times before.
“It is the culture and tradition before each election for parties to declare defections. Sometimes, it is real, but that is not important. The important thing is the election results. If the defections are as numerous as each party says, then the other parties may have no votes. If the CNRP was not dissolved, none of its members would defect to this or that party. We only see declarations of defections, but the result remains the same and nothing changes.”
Political analyst Meas Nee alleged that many of the defectors were forced to join the CPP through fear and intimidation.
“There are groups of people who defect out of fear. Of course some CNRP activists are also in a state of fear as they are closely watched. People are told that their salary will be cut if they are factory workers, [for example]. If they don’t defect and join the CPP,” Nee alleged.
However, Eysan rejected such accusations.
“Our good policies, actions and assistance to improve their livelihood persuaded them to defect, and they come. So why should we reject them? We do not need to do anything more,” he stressed.