With the opposition under pressure from the government and teetering on the brink of dissolution, former CNRP President Sam Rainsy has claimed party lawmaker Mao Monyvann is attempting a leadership change in light of current party leader Kem Sokha’s detention – an allegation that was quickly dispelled by other party members.
The self-exiled leader took to Facebook on Monday night to both applaud Sokha’s bravery and strength for standing up to the government and to condemn an attempted leadership “coup” being orchestrated by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, with Monyvann’s assistance.
“The information I received is that now there is someone coming out to do what Hun Sen or the CPP have instructed,” Rainsy says in the video. “That is Mao Monyvann.”
The allegation comes days after Rainsy and other senior party members overseas said Sokha’s approval of a list of party nominees for Senate election should be disregarded because it was given under pressure from behind bars and was not in compliance with party procedures.
In the video, Rainsy continues to say that Monyvann was in the process of lobbying support from lower-level party members in anticipation of announcing a leadership change that would install him as the new president of the main opposition party.
“So, this is a betrayal, an outright cheap betrayal which the Cambodian people’s dignity and intelligence cannot accept,” he says.
Rainsy also makes a call to local and national-level CNRP officials to leave the country if they find the increasing pressure from the government too much to handle.
Reached yesterday, Rainsy said he had heard from grassroots supporters and leaders in several provinces who said Monyvann had approached them seeking endorsement for his leadership. Despite two internal conflicts being made public this week, Rainsy maintained that the party was focused on riding out the political storm as the Supreme Court pursues a motion filed by the Ministry of Interior to dissolve the CNRP.
“[We] all pursue the same objective, which is to prevent the unconstitutional dissolution of the CNRP (we are confident now that this will not happen) and to denounce any attempt by a few isolated sold-out elements to take control of the CNRP,” Rainsy wrote in an email.
Monyvann refuted Rainsy’s accusations, characterising the claims as those made by an “individual living far away” and contesting the information the former opposition leader said he had received.
“He did not get information clearly and he just had a dream. A dream which is not true,” he said via telephone yesterday.
Monyvann said he had faced similar accusations since joining politics in the 1990s, but that these had not affected his dedication to the party. He also seemed to take a shot at the dozen or more opposition lawmakers who had left the country since Sokha’s midnight arrest on widely condemned “treason” charges in September.
Their departure has left the CNRP’s leadership split between home and abroad.“I cannot run and leave my hero who is facing everything and dares to go to jail. I cannot do that. But those living abroad, you left with your choice,” he said.
Political relations between Monyvann and Rainsy have been strained in the past. In 2011, Monyvann was expelled from the then-Sam Rainsy Party after he accused two senior parliamentarians of wielding excessive control over the party. He joined Sokha’s Human Rights Party after his expulsion, before a merger of the two parties created the CNRP a year later.
Yesterday, Monyvann’s denials were backed up by CNRP Deputy President Pol Ham, who said Monyvann had not approached him in an attempt to garner support for a leadership coup.
“How [Rainsy] knows that, I do not know. I have no idea because Mao Monyvann is working with me as normal,” he said.
Ham said Sokha would remain party leader, repeating past refusals by party leaders after Sokha’s arrest to appoint a new president, despite possible ramifications under recently passed amendments to the Law on Political Parties that prohibit people with criminal convictions from holding leadership positions within political parties.
Political commentator Ou Virak said it was not surprising the party seemed to be unravelling given the immense pressure it was under. “The party isn’t behaving as one. There has been a lot of internal politicking,” he said yesterday.
As an opposition political party, the CNRP’s modus operandi – and a contributing factor for its rise in popularity – was to constantly point the finger at the government and others in power and win voter support with polarising statements, he said. But now, the accusations had turned inwards.
“That’s been the bread and butter in the rise of the party. And under pressure they are turning against each other,” he said.
Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, suggested that one of the CPP-led government’s goals could be “to put such immense pressure on the CNRP that it fractures along SRP-HRP lines”.
“While these fissures have always existed within the party, up until now the CNRP has done remarkably well to maintain a united front in the face of Hun Sen’s assaults,” he said.
Opposition Senator Sor Chandeth said the two opposing sides of the dispute would be judged by party supporters.
“The citizens know former CNRP President Sam Rainsy very well and they know Mao Monyvann very well,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t want some politicians to do whatever they want, like what we call demagoguery.”