Analysts have noted the success of Cambodian People Party (CPP) president Hun Sen’s “Isolate and Finish” policy, describing a rapid increase in the number of supporters abandoning former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, and observing that the one-time challenger for the position of prime minister is becoming more and more isolated.

Rainsy was formally Hun Sen’s biggest rival in contemporary Cambodian politics. Since he began living in self-imposed exile abroad to avoid a slew of court cases, his followers have been departing from his sphere of influence one after another.

The latest person to declare an end to his allegiance with Rainsy is Chea Poch, a former opposition lawmaker for Prey Veng and Kampot provinces.

In an April 23 letter to Hun Sen, Poch announced that he had severed all ties with Rainsy and ceased all activities with opposition groups, either the court-dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party, the Candlelight Party, or any other opposition party.

In his apology letter to the former prime minister, Poch said: “I have no more trust in foreign-leaning policies, or of slandering, insulting, smearing and dividing, none of which will lead to national unity and reconciliation”.

Poch, who has been sued by the CPP, requested that Hun Sen withdraw the legal complaint against him.

Hun Sen accepted Poch’s request and instructed his legal team to look into the procedure to end legal action.

“I take this opportunity to emphasise that I will accept apologies from any other people who recognise their mistakes and declare that they will isolate themselves from the three-generation-traitor, and will grant them pardons. But we will not show any clemency to any individual or group who continue to follow this traitor,” he said on April 23, referring to Rainsy.

Another high-profile opposition figure to declare his dissatisfaction with the former opposition leader is Kong Saphea, a former lawmaker for Svay Rieng province, who was seen as very close to Rainsy until recently. He has sought clemency from Hun Sen and Prime Minister Hun Manet, requesting that Manet write a request for a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni.

He explained that he wants to return to Cambodia to care for his elderly father, Kong Koam, a former opposition leader.

Manet welcomed Saphea’s change of heart and pledged to find a way to pardon him, adding that he looks forward to meeting with him in the near future.

Independent political analyst Em Sovannara was of the view that the opposition group led by Rainsy has effectively been dispersed, with no further means to mobilise support, and no successor from the new generation prepared to take his place.

He believed Rainsy’s team is now in a precarious position, regardless of how much support they appear to enjoy from parts of the international community.

Sovannara suggested that Hun Sen still considers Rainsy a minor threat, which is why the recent loss of several key allies remains significant.

“This is why the CPP leader continues to accept the apologies of former opposition figures. This is a key tenet of Hun Sen’s ‘Isolate and Finish’ strategy, and it is clear that it has been a success,” he said.

He noted that several former opposition figures who joined the CPP and the government appeared to have lost their high-profile status, which may have left others wondering if they should join the ruling party or continue to follow Rainsy. Sovannara said that if transparency could be ensured within the CPP, more opposition figures may join.

He concluded, however, that for at least the next 10 or 15 years, the opposition movement was likely to continue, although he was unsure what form it would take.

People Center for Development and Peace (PDP) president Yong Kim Eng believed that the political climate will continue to fluctuate.

He noted that in the early stages of the Kingdom’s contemporary politics, just two parties – the CPP and royalist Funcinpec – were popular, with the Khmer Nation Party, which became the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), emerging later.

Looking ahead, Kim Eng believed that opposition groups could remain competitive, provided they offer strong political programmes, albeit without the presence of Rainsy.

“I think that in a democratic society, there are still important figures in each group. An absence of one person does not mean the complete end of any one group,” he said.

Kim Eng saw Hun Sen’s gesture of forgiveness towards the former opposition figures as important. He suggested that he continue to act in the spirit of tolerance, so that these individuals can continue to contribute to the Kingdom’s vibrant political scene.

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan noted that the ruling party, as announced by Hun Sen, will continue to accept anyone who declares their voluntary isolation from the man he referred to as the “outlaw leader of a rebellion”.

“The CPP has followed a policy of national reconciliation since the 1990s. This policy led to the success of the Paris Peace Agreements and continues until today. The CPP will not reverse course. Anyone who withdraws from the influence of the convict [Rainsy] and stops serving him, will receive leniency from Samdech [Hun Sen],” he said.