HomeAsiaCambodia’s Kem Sokha denies outside pressure in party rift

Cambodia’s Kem Sokha denies outside pressure in party rift

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha pushed back online on Wednesday against suggestions he had been forced to post a criticism last week of fellow Cambodia National Rescue Party member Sam Rainsy.

“No one has forced me to do anything, especially on my Facebook page,” Kem Sokha wrote, in reference to a Nov. 28 post demanding the now-dissolved CNRP stop using his name and photo for political purposes.

Some activists have called Kem Sokha’s statement — which explicitly mentions Sam Rainsy, a former CNRP leader who now lives in exile — a signal of division within the top ranks of the party’s leaders. But others contend the message shows Kem Sokha was writing under government control as he awaits trial on treason charges in Cambodia.

Writing from exile on Nov. 28, Sam Rainsy claimed that Kem Sokha had posted his statement under pressure from Cambodia’s long-ruling prime minister Hun Sen, “who dreads unity among Cambodian democrats and has been holding Kem Sokha hostage.”

Sok Ey San, a spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), told RFA on Wednesday that Hun Sen had played no part in the dispute, but acknowledged that a rift within the opposition group would benefit the CPP.

“We will certainly benefit from this, more or less. In any democratic country, each party likes to see its rivals weakened or divided, and they don’t break any laws by wanting this to happen,” he said.

Thailand-based CNRP activist Morn Phalla said that with communal elections scheduled in Cambodia in June 2022, the CPP had likely played a role in framing Kem Sokha’s message in an effort to set the two opposition leaders against each other.

“This is a CPP strategy and doesn’t reflect the spirit of the CNRP,” he said.

Kem Sokha’s message probably shows that he wants nothing more to do with Sam Rainsy, however, said Cambodia-based analyst Seng Sary.

“This rift has nothing to do with the CPP,” he said.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party in November 2017, two months after arresting Kem Sokha over an alleged plot backed by the United States to overthrow the government of Hun Sen.

His trial on treason charges opened in January 2020, but officials suspended the trial that March until 2021 due, they said, to the coronavirus pandemic.

The trial has since been further delayed, with Phnom Penh Municipality Court Director Taing Sunlay recently telling RFA the trial will likely be convened in late December or early January 2022.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.



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