Embroiled in an infidelity scandal that some observers have suggested is a political smear campaign, acting National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha took a thinly veiled swipe at the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on Saturday, saying political parties should act with “dignity and equality” and not use “state power” to pressure opponents.
Addressing some 1,500 supporters at the CNRP’s national congress in Phnom Penh, Sokha called for fair play as elections approached, though he avoided referring to the CPP by name.
“I would like to call on all political competitors to please compete with equality and dignity, avoid using violence and wielding state power to suppress their competitors,” Sokha told the crowd, before claiming the road ahead would get tougher given the CNRP’s increasing popularity.
“They will not let us win easily, they will not give us much chance to work freely, however our political platform is about national reconciliation, not revenge and not turning on any Khmer as the enemy. If the CNRP wins, all Khmers are winners.”
Sokha has been dogged by questions about his private life after a series of covertly recorded phone conversations, purportedly featuring him talking intimately with mistresses, were leaked on social media earlier this month.
Largely driven by a vocal cell of students – whose motives remain murky – the scandal has quickly snowballed, with the Anti-Corruption Unit launching an investigation into Sokha’s finances, sparked by references to gifts pledged to women in the recordings.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday reiterated denials that the party, or government, had in any way unfairly pressured its rivals, and maintained that several legal cases against CNRP members were not political. “I would like to dismiss [these assertions],” he said.
Meanwhile, in what could be a small sign of a levelling playing field, a group of “students” that have continued to demand that Sokha respond directly to the tapes was on Saturday dispersed by police as they tried to penetrate the CNRP congress.
The group has, untroubled by authorities, crashed several recent CNRP events.
They have also lodged complaints with several state bodies including the ACU, which last week launched a probe after declaring the recordings were genuine.
In a video captured by local media, policemen can be seen telling the group to “get into a car and drive away” and repeatedly asking them “what do you want?”
One of the group responds: “You don’t understand [our] work.” He then says the group had applied for permission to protest with City Hall, adding, “So if you want to use violence, it will not work.”