Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Very tense’ path to deal

‘Very tense’ path to deal

CNRP supporters attend a speech by Kem Sokha
CNRP supporters attend a speech by Kem Sokha on Saturday in the US state of California, where he expressed disappointment over the July 22 political deal. PHOTO SUPPLIED

‘Very tense’ path to deal

Thirteen thousand kilometres from home and eight months after the fact, opposition leader Kem Sokha finally gave voice to what many had suspected all along – that the political deal brokered last July with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP had been a hard pill to swallow.

Analysts have long speculated that Sokha – often painted as the hardliner in the political marriage that formed the CNRP – was upset with the agreement that saw the CNRP join parliament in exchange for an electoral system overhaul. But he has until now restrained himself from publicly discussing internal rifts over the decision.

He finally spoke out on the weekend to supporters in the opposition donor base of Long Beach, California, the so-called “Cambodian capital” of the United States, telling them he was “not content” with the July 22 deal, which paved the way for two controversial election-related laws that will be imminently passed.

“Speaking truthfully, I was not happy with the results of the negotiation, but I respected the principles of [the CNRP] and the stance of [the CNRP], which had to accept [a deal] to move forward to resolve problems,” Sokha said.

“So [we] received a very short agreement that was not clear and not detailed, [meaning] this agreement could be interpreted in many ways.”

He explained that internal party discussions at the time over whether the CNRP should end its nearly yearlong boycott of parliament had been “very tense”.

But Sokha added that while he knew the CPP would dominate the CNRP numerically in the National Assembly if it ended its boycott, he recognised it was more important that the CNRP’s leadership remained united until the 2018 poll.

“The ruling party is afraid of our merger, and if we have different ideas and split because of such problems, we would lose before the fight,” he said. “I agreed to be patient to continue this merger … and not to fall for the tricks of the dictators.”

The CNRP was formed in 2012 after a merger between Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party and the Sam Rainsy Party.

CNRP leader Sam Rainsy yesterday chalked up disagreements within the party to its positive democratic culture and said he did not have a problem with Sokha “exposing a bit of what is history now”.

“At the very beginning, it was a difficult decision to make, and each of us did not necessarily have the same appreciation,” he said.

“But what is important is that in the end, we come to the same conclusion and we made a decision on behalf of the party.”

Rainsy admitted that Sokha’s message delivered to US-based supporters was different to what he had been saying in Cambodia, but he said it was not linked to the fact that election reform negotiations with the CPP had recently been concluded.

“In the US, people speak more openly, they don’t feel the same constraints as in Cambodia, so I understand that Kem Sokha had to respond to them in a more candid manner,” Rainsy said.

“So for us, the leadership of the party, we remain in the same mood.”

Rainsy said he understood Sokha’s desire to speak out but said it would be “premature” for him to also judge last July’s agreement as having been too vague.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday mocked Sokha’s delayed response to a deal that was signed eight months ago.

“Whether he is happy or not is his business, because the party president [Rainsy] and he already signed it. If he is unhappy now, it means that he reluctantly signed it then,” he said.

Echoing a line often espoused by the ruling party, Eysan also predicted that divisions between Rainsy and Sokha’s wings of the party would soon cause it to implode.

But Ok Serei Sopheak, an independent political analyst, said that on the contrary, the opposition appeared to have reached “a certain level of political maturity”, as evidenced by Sokha having been able to hold his tongue until election reform talks were completed.

However, now, he continued, the party recognises it must defend itself against supporters who accuse it of having acquiesced to the CPP.

“This is the main message [from Sokha] – ‘we have had a lot of difficulty dealing with the CPP but we will maintain the merger. Sam Rainsy and I will be patient and stick together until the election’,” Serei Sopheak said.

He added, however, that Sokha’s decision to break his silence outside Cambodia was wise.

“If you say this in Cambodia, it’s like you are saying in the house of the CPP that you don’t agree with them on whatever negotiations you made in the past,” he said.

“I think the leadership of CPP will consider this moderation; you say a true thing but you are considerate enough not to say it out loud inside Cambodia.”


  • School reopening to be postponed until November

    Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins. In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new

  • Foreigners in Kingdom must now register in FPCS system

    The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that it would not grant visa extensions to foreigners staying in Cambodia if their names are not listed on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) by July 1. Foreign nationals can register in the

  • Covid-19 at ‘alarming rate’, health ministry says

    The Covid-19 risk level for individual transmission is at an “alarming rate” in the Kingdom and its probability is “not low”, warned Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine. “Cambodia’s coronavirus scenario is classified as being at an early stage of the pandemic because of ongoing

  • Mandatory quarantine for 30,000 workers begins

    Some of the roughly 30,000 workers from factories and enterprises across the Kingdom who went on leave during Khmer New Year began their government-imposed 14-day quarantine on Monday. Speaking at a press conference while visiting workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Monday, Ministry

  • Unemployed to get $40 per month

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has instructed enterprises, business owners and travel agencies in five provinces to prepare the proper forms for the suspension of employment contracts. This, it said, will make it easier for the ministry to transfer $40 a month to workers

  • Gov’t travel ban flouted

    While the majority of Cambodians have paid heed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to stay put and not travel during the Khmer New Year – the holidays of which were also postponed – several hundred have left Phnom Penh nonetheless. They have allegedly breached provincial

  • G20 energy ministers struggle to finalise oil output cuts

    Top oil producers struggled to finalise production cuts during a virtual summit held by Group of 20 (G20) energy ministers on Friday, despite US President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts to end a standoff with Mexico. The final G20 communique appeared to gloss over simmering divisions

  • Kingdom revises travel restriction order

    The government on Friday eased the district and provincial border restrictions issued on Thursday. People are now allowed to cross districts within their provinces. Phnom Penh and Kandal province are to be treated as a single region where people are allowed to travel freely. In

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,