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A sign of the times: CNRP begins removing placards featuring Rainsy

A motorist in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district yesterday passes by a Cambodia National Rescue Party signboard that conforms to controversial amendments to the Law on Political Parties.
A motorist in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district yesterday passes by a Cambodia National Rescue Party signboard that conforms to controversial amendments to the Law on Political Parties. Pha Lina

A sign of the times: CNRP begins removing placards featuring Rainsy

The CNRP has begun replacing its signage around the nation with new boards that display only the party’s rising sun logo, officials said yesterday, a change necessitated by amendments banning the use of former opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s image that are expected to pass the Senate today.

Placards featuring founding Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy and his former deputy and current party leader Kem Sokha clasping hands alongside the logo have been on display ever since shortly after the two leaders merged their parties to form the CNRP five years ago yesterday.

However, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party last week passed new changes to the Law on Political Parties through the National Assembly that would allow for the forced dissolution of any party that uses the image, voice or written materials of a convicted criminal.

Rainsy currently lives in self-exile in Paris to avoid more than two decades’ worth of prison time across a slew of convictions for defamation and “incitement”, and CNRP Treasurer Ky Wandara said the party was preparing to replace its signage to remove images of both him and Sokha.

“We will put the logo of the party, the sun, because if we put the images of our leaders it’s normal that those who know they will lose would follow and provoke us, so it’s not complicated – to have a future, we have to put the logo of the sun,” Wandara said.

Wandara said that he did not know how much the operation would cost in total because the CNRP’s provincial committees were responsible for putting up promotional signage and some provinces had more – and differently sized – placards than other provinces.

However, he said the party placards that dot the countryside typically cost $2 per square metre to produce.

CNRP lawmaker Kimsour Phirith said the operation to replace the placards had only just begun, but would go into full swing once the changes become official.

“We have already thought about and prepared for this change because we know that with this law they have the intention for us to remove [Rainsy’s image from placards], otherwise they will dissolve our party,” Phirith said.

Yet CPP spokesman Suos Yara said the ruling party had no intention to dissolve the party under the new changes, which were ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month.

“There are no problems to be concerned about any further. The important thing is that they respect the nation’s laws and they join to contest [in politics] freely and justly,” Yara said.

The CNRP was founded during a meeting in the Philippines in July 2012 between Rainsy and Sokha, about a month after their competing parties – which had long bickered over strategy and leadership – were devastated by the CPP at the commune elections.

The newly formed party came within seven seats of winning the disputed 2013 national election and is expected to mount the most serious challenge to Hun Sen’s hold on power in Cambodia in more than two decades at the next national election, which is scheduled for July 2018.

Chan Vibol, a political science lecturer and consultant, said the CNRP was being inadvertently forced into a useful symbolic shift away from personality politics in its party placards – a change that was unlikely to damage the party since much of its support was based on its message anyway.

“The CNRP’s popularity is not because of the images of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, but it depends on the acts of the CNRP in its campaigning. I think that any decision not to put up the images of the leaders is a good idea”, Vibol said.

“In general, they should not put up the images of the leaders, because a party does not belong to its leaders, it’s a party serving the national interest.”

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