In an apparent defence of his frequent absence from the Kingdom, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy said that visiting Cambodians in wealthy Western countries such as France or Australia was just as important as visiting them in Cambodia itself.
“We all, whether living in Cambodia or abroad, belong to one unique Khmer family,” said Rainsy – who is currently on a tour in Australia – in a post to his Facebook page on Friday.
“Therefore, when considering the regular visits that CNRP leaders pay to thousands of Cambodian people living in the USA, France or Australia, there is no difference from their regular visits to the Cambodian people living for instance in Cambodia’s Battambang, Kampong Cham or Prey Veng provinces.”
A recent war of words between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the CNRP has brought into focus Cambodian communities living abroad, often the source of opposition complaints that the government’s border maps favour alleged Vietnamese encroachment.
CNRP lawmakers Um Sam An, a US citizen, and Real Camerin, an Australian citizen, are both in the US fundraising as they tout the border issue.
But the CNRP has distanced itself from its lawmakers’ statements about the border in the wake of a series of high-profile arrests and convictions, which included the August 15 arrest of Sam Rainsy Party Senator Hong Sok Hour on charges of “treason” for posting what he claimed was a fake section of a 1979 border treaty with Vietnam online.
Sok Hour’s arrest did not stop opposition lawmaker Um Sam An from casting doubt on government border maps last week after he found a supposedly original United Nations map in the US Library of Congress.
However, it does not appear Sam An has his own party’s backing.
Kem Sokha, the CNRP’s deputy president, yesterday became the latest to distance himself from the border issue, saying at a conference in Australia on Saturday morning that he did not approve of Um Sam An’s visit to the US.
Sokha also suggested that the ruling party was actively attempting to sow divisions among the CNRP’s overseas supporters.
“Now they have a plan to attract overseas people to leave the CNRP to reduce the CNRP’s support. But I don’t care,” he said.
“We do not care that they want to attract our forces – go ahead, provided that the competition is done peacefully. Through nonviolence and dignity, we believe the CNRP will win just the same.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan responded by saying that it was normal for any political party to try and “use its political platform to attract supporters”.
It’s no secret that the opposition’s coddling of Cambodians abroad is based on their financial support of the party, said Ou Virak, a political analyst and founder of the Future Forum think tank.
But the constant quest for donations has come at an institutional cost, Virak added.
“[Rainsy] doesn’t spend enough time in Cambodia or enough time actually leading the party,” he said. “That’s why the party seems to be all over the place.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, however, strongly denied that overseas Cambodians’ concerns were being catered to at the expense of their compatriots in the mother country.
“A lot of Cambodians living abroad have told their relatives about what has been going on outside the country – about the development of a democratic country, about fair elections, income distribution, everything,” he said.
Sovann added that the CNRP could be run just as well with its senior leadership travelling to different locations abroad thanks to technology and on-the-ground staff.