Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy has warned he could praise the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, creating a trigger for its dissolution, if it attempts to use recent legal changes to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party on the basis of his public support for the party.
In February, Rainsy was forced by changes to the Political Parties Law to resign as the CNRP’s leader or risk it being dissolved due to his criminal convictions. Further changes introduced this month would allow for its dissolution simply for associating with him.
The changes, already passed by CPP lawmakers in the National Assembly and Senate, would allow for the closure of a party that breaks new provisions banning a party from “accepting or conspiring with a convicted criminal to do activities in the interests of the party”.
Yet in a radio interview on Wednesday night, the former CNRP leader said he would not stop campaigning online from abroad, and that the opposition’s current leadership could simply issue a statement saying it disavows his support to avoid any dissolution.
“It may declare in principle from the very beginning that the only individuals allowed to speak on behalf of the party are its leaders, permanent committee members and spokesperson,” Rainsy told Radio Free Asia from France, where he lives in self-imposed exile.
“As for other individuals, their comments are their own, and such individuals must be held solely responsible. As I’ve said earlier, I will speak about the issues facing our country.”
The government could, in effect, be caught in a catch-22 of its own making if it sought to dissolve the CNRP under the new laws, Rainsy explained, because he could heap praise on the ruling party if it did something good, leaving it in the same position as the CNRP.
“If I see any party doing well – say the CPP may one day awaken and rectify themselves through good deeds – I will commend it,” he said. “In such a situation, if the CPP doesn’t issue a rejection . . . the CPP itself would also be subject to dissolution.”
However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said that no one would believe Rainsy was sincerely praising the government if he made any announcement commending it as part of a ploy.
“There’s no way. He can’t place the trap for the CPP, because since before Sam Rainsy has been enemy of the CPP, so how could he praise the CPP?” Eysan said. “The CPP could not accept that, and there are no people who would believe that Sam Rainsy praises the CPP.”
“We consider all this to be a trick, but no trick can trap the CPP,” he added, explaining that also few people would believe the CNRP disavowing Rainsy. “When they are afraid of facing punishment, they will deny it, but in fact their internals all agree with each other.”
Twenty-nine CNRP lawmakers wrote a letter to King Norodom Sihamoni yesterday asking he consider the constitutionality of the changes to the Political Parties Law, which the Senate approved this week, before signing off on them and giving them full legal force.
“This proposed law violates and impinges upon the Constitution, which is the most supreme law, in Article 35 . . . which says ‘Cambodians citizens of both sexes have the right to participate actively in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation,’” the letter says.
In any case, Rainsy said in his radio interview he would not stop discussing politics with his wife, CNRP lawmaker Tioulong Saumura, out of any fears the government could use his relationship with her as an example of the opposition “conspiring with a convicted criminal”.
“Only the Khmer Rouge sent its agents to spy and cause trouble against its own citizens [based on family],” Rainsy said. “My wife is still my wife, and I remain her husband.”
“We maintain our private lives just like other families,” he said. “If this law is promulgated so that I will have to divorce my wife, I will never follow it.”