The ruling party seems to have a new target in its campaign to criticise the opposition party, taking aim at the very name of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the Legal Documentation Centre on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin reportedly accused the CNRP of lifting its name from his now-defunct Khmer Rescue newspaper.
“The opposition party stole the name to [make their own], but it was my group’s newspaper,” Chhin was quoted as saying by pro-government media source Fresh News. “When the Khmer Rescue paper was requested to close, we established another newspaper, named the National Rescue paper.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen himself first brought up the issue during a re-enactment of his defection from the Khmer Rouge to Vietnam last week when he claimed the term “national rescue” “belongs” to the CPP because his party saved Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge.
CPP spokesman Suos Yara, meanwhile, made similar comments to Fresh News on Tuesday, claiming the CNRP uses the name to mislead people.
“Hun Sen is the founder of the armed forces, solidarity and national rescue,” Yara was quoted as saying. “Another party taking the term of ‘national rescue’ is a hoax. Based on the history of that party, what things have they rescued?”
Yara stood by his comments when reached by the telephone yesterday, warning that the CNRP must be careful in how they use the phrase.“If this phrase destroys peace at any time, then this phrase is also dangerous,” Yara said, declining to elaborate on what danger the term might pose or what the consequences would be.
However, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the government did not plan to challenge the CNRP’s right to the name.
“We are just telling the people who rescued the nation . . . [It was] only the CPP,” he said yesterday, while acknowledging the opposition’s party name is legally recognised by the Ministry of Interior.
However, Siphan later noted that if Chhin had registered the name “National Rescue” with the Ministry of Commerce, he may have the legal right to challenge the CNRP’s use of it.
Chhin could not be reached for additional comment yesterday.
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua declined to comment in detail on the allegations but said that the party followed legal guidelines in registering the name.
“We are registered and officially organised by the Ministry of Interior,” she said.
“We have complied with the law . . . We have already gone through two elections . . . We are CNRP,” she added.
Political analyst Meas Ny said that the attacks on the CNRP’s name were a “clear example” of the ruling party’s bureaucratic harassment of the opposition.
“Why would the institution be allowed to register the name in the first place [if Chhin had done so already]?” Ny asked.
The comments follow a series of recent moves perceived by observers as political harassment, including putting pressure on the CNRP to change a popular campaign slogan and forcing them to resubmit their party platform. The CNRP also had to hold multiple leadership elections because the Ministry of Interior would not approve the proceedings.
The CPP attack on the CNRP’s name harkens back to a central debate in Cambodian politics, Ny said, of whether Hun Sen and his ilk rescued Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge or were part of an occupation force.
However, Ny said that the CPP’s constant posturing of itself as the Kingdom’s saviour is losing potency with the new generation.
“They should know this kind of strategy doesn’t seem to work now . . . They should focus on policy,” he said.