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Political comeback bid: Former Cambodia opposition party leaders seek to form party

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times September 1, 2020

PHNOM PENH – After three years of political inactivity following a five-year ban, some former senior members of the court-dissolved CNRP are planning to form a new party to challenge the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in the next election.

The move comes just days after three senior officials of the CNRP, including former prominent lawmaker Son Chhay, requested Minister of Interior Sar Kheng to seek clemency for them to be able to resume being active in politics.

They are among 118 senior opposition party officials banned from politics for five years after the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in 2017.

Currently, more than 10 amongst 118 senior CNRP have had their ban on political activity lifted. They include former lawmakers Kang Kimhak, Chiv Kata, Tep Sothy, Kong Bora and Real Cemarin, as well as former CNRP senior adviser Kong Korm, who is now honorary president of his youngest son party’s Khmer Will Party.

Cemarin now is the president of Khmer Conservative Party while Kimhak and Kata currently are the founders of the newly created Cambodian National Love Party.

The question is whether parties created by former CNRP members will be able to gain the popularity enjoyed by their previous party or be able to challenge the ruling party in the next election.

Additionally, their former president Kem Sokha is still undergoing trial for while former CNRP founder Sam Rainsy remains in exile to avoid a slew of convictions.

A former prominent CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath, whose ban was also lifted, said yesterday he and other ex-opposition officials are gathering support from ex-senior officials who have not defected to the CPP or other parties to join the new political party.

“We are gathering those who are willing to compete in the upcoming commune election in 2022 and National Election in 2023, especially former opposition members and those who want to see a positive change,” he said. “If we gather enough members, then we will officially create a new party.”

“We did not hope that the CNRP would be reinstated to participate in the next election. It has been almost three years now [since it was dissolved] and I don’t think there will be a solution,” Chanrath added.

He refused to reveal the name of the new party or its founding members before it is recognised by the Ministry of Interior.

However, it has been reported by the local media that new party could be called “Reform Party” and led by Chanrath, Chhay as well as Meach Sovannara, former director of the CNRP’s information department.

Chanrath said he and other colleagues also met with several foreign diplomats to discuss the political development in Cambodia. He said some of the diplomats support the democratic process in the country.

But those who remain loyal to former CNRP consider those who request for restoration of political rights as “betraying” the party as well as the will of people who voted for the CNRP in the previous election.

Mu Sochua, a former opposition vice president, said via a video clip posted on her Facebook page on Sunday, that the former CNRP officials should not have asked for political rights to be restored because the move has split the “democrats”.

Former CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay, centre, at a press conference. KT/Chor Sokunthea

However, Chanrath said the efforts made by former CNRP leaders to request the international community to put the pressure against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government have hardly been effective. He said those who criticise his group should struggle for their cause in the country rather than flee the country.

“The people voted for us in 2013, that is why we do not run away from them, I am not betraying any people. I am committed to staying with them,” he said. “There is no CNRP anymore so I must move on.”

Democratic Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun said yesterday that as Cambodians, they have full rights to create a party to compete in the election.

“In a democratic system, the people have the right to gather to create political parties to promote their policy to serve the country, but they need to be qualified, have human resources, good policies as well as an effective ideology and strategy,” he said. “To create a political party is not a big matter, but the question is whether the new party has potential and support or not, it is a big question for the people.”

However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday welcomed the move. He said the ruling party wants to see new parties challenge the CPP in the next election.

“They are correctly excersising their rights which are stated in the constitution as well as the election law,” he said. “We want to see a strong party challenge the CPP. We are not afraid of losing seats because it is the decision of the voters.”

Eysan said the request for restoration of political rights was the right decision of some former CNRP senior members.

“I wish to send the message to them [former CNRP officials] that your former party leaders have become a rebel group and the party will not be reinstated,” he said. “If you don’t want to return to politics, pleases stay with your rebel group, but if you want to serve the nation, please request for the restoration of your political rights.”

Source: Khmer Times. Cambodia, Tue September 1, 2020

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