An opposition leader yesterday rejected criticism that his party is becoming too friendly with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, assuring supporters they would fight to win power and not be lured into the same trap as the now marginalised Funcinpec royalist party.
Speaking to hundreds of supporters and activists in Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Kem Sokha urged the crowd not to misunderstand the “culture of dialogue” between Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, adding the CNRP would maintain its integrity as an opposition party and would strongly criticise the CPP if necessary.
“I have told leaders of the CNRP that although we have a good atmosphere that offers us the possibility to fulfil the job through a culture of dialogue it is not enough to ensure the CNRP will win election unless we keep a clear political platform,” Sokha said.
“Otherwise our fate would be the same as the Funcinpec party,” Sokha said, referring to the downfall of the royalist party following its power-sharing arrangement with the CPP in the 1990s and beyond.
Funcinpec currently holds no seats in parliament after having won Cambodia’s first democratic election in 1993.
The comments come less than a week after CNRP leader Sam Rainsy appeared together with Prime Minister Hun Sen in Siem Reap to celebrate Khmer New Year amid expressions of unity.
Sokha told supporters that they had to know “clearly” the distinctions between the CNRP and the CPP, claiming his party was determined to win a “free and fair election” and resolve problems while the CPP would not change their ways if re-elected.
“We are democrats and who are our competitor? They are communists. We are democrats; can we accompany communists?” he said. “We do not consider any Khmer as an enemy but we cannot enforce the political platform of communists in our party.
“This point is very important; we must know ourselves that we are democrats.”
While Rainsy and Hun Sen have both trumpeted recent goodwill between the parties, Sokha – who was not invited to Siem Reap – is still yet to find out whether he’ll face further questioning after being grilled for eight hours at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on April 8 over his connection to protests stemming from the disputed 2013 election.
Analyst and recent entrant into the world of grassroots politics Kem Ley said it appeared the CPP was utilising the same strategy it used to break up Funcinpec, which was undermined by internal divisions and defections, with discord often sown by the CPP.
“Having a culture of dialogue with one individual and leaving another counterpart [out] is different. It is just culture of dialogue to divide,” Ley said.
“If the [CNRP] is careless it will have a worse fate than Funcinpec.”
Khoeung Nath, senior official of Funcinpec and adviser to government, agreed.
“Before [the CNRP] has always opposed, but now [CNRP] takes the culture of dialogue,” he said. “With this dialogue the [CNRP] can fall down worse than Funcinpec.”
However, speaking on April 17, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy rejected the criticism, saying the royalists served only themselves by coveting titles within government, while his party was pursuing the “national interest”.
Contrary to the criticism, Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies president Phoak Kung said the current dialogue between the two parties was a positive sign of maturity and helped address the problem of political polarisation.
“For a long time, Cambodia’s politics has often been strictly seen as a contest between two major ideas, whether you are pro the ruling party or against it, and you’re only allowed to choose one,” Kung said.
“This culture of ‘my way or the highway’ is counterproductive and even dangerous. The past experience has proved that very well.… I think people should go beyond the parties and seriously think what is best for the country.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON