Following a recent pledge by opposition leader Rainsy to return next year to Cambodia, police in Kandal province have questioned local Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activists concerning their possible support for the party’s acting president in the event he comes back, Cambodian sources say.
Summoned by Akreiy Ksatr commune police on Dec. 20, the eight activists were told to defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), former CNRP commune chief Touch Savuth told RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday.
Resisting police pressure, Touch Savuth refused to change her party affiliation, she said.
“I have chosen my party in order to change our country’s leader, who is a dictator and corrupt,” Touch Savuth said, referring to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the Southeast Asian country for more than 30 years.
Tong Sarun, another activist, said police had forced him to promise not to write on a Facebook page connected to the CNRP, which was dissolved by Supreme Court order last year, allowing Hun Sen to sweep national elections in July without effective opposition.
“They forced me to sign,” Tong Sarun said. “I am very upset, but for the sake of my safety and security I had to do it.”
Reached for comment, commune police chief An Penh declined to comment on the summons, but said that all eight activists called in were no longer members of the CNRP.
Provincial CNRP leaders meanwhile welcomed the news of Sam Rainsy’s promised return, vowing their support for the opposition leader who fled Cambodia into exile following a string of convictions in court cases widely seen as politically motivated.
“We are ready to go to prison with Sam Rainsy if authorities arrest us,” Dim Savoeun—a CNRP leader from northwestern Cambodia’s Battambang province—told RFA. “We have been with Sam Rainsy for 10 to 20 years, and we know that he is working for the sake of our country.”
Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan was unavailable for comment Thursday, but has previously said that opposition activists are free to discuss Sam Rainsy’s return as long as they provoke no “instability” in the country.
'A vital move'
Political analyst Kim Sok meanwhile called Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia a vital move in the country’s “fight for freedom and democracy.”
The ruling CPP will find it difficult to arrest not just Sam Rainsy but all of his supporters, he said.
“Hun Sen is afraid of Sam Rainsy, so the CPP will try again and again to frighten him out of the country,” he said.
Cambodian opposition politician Sam Rainsy, living in self-imposed exile since 2016, vowed on Dec.16 to return to Cambodia next year to fight for democracy, amid stark divisions among the government’s political opponents.
“I am asking all Cambodians to rise up and join me at that time, so that we can jointly fight for real change,” Sam Rainsy said, adding, “We need to stand up against Hun Sen and bring back democracy in 2019.”
Once the major opposition party to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, the CNRP was dissolved by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in Nov. 2017.
Sam Rainsy cofounded the party in 2012 after merging his Sam Rainsy Party with Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party. Sam Rainsy served as the new party’s president, but stepped down while in exile in Feb. 2017 in favor of Kem Sokha, who was then vice president.
With Kem Sokha currently under house arrest while awaiting trial on charges of treason, Sam Rainsy became acting president on Dec. 9 after being nominated during a two-day international conference of the CNRP in Atlanta that was boycotted by Kem Sokha’s supporters.
Meanwhile, in a Dec. 20 statement released following a two-day meeting of the CPP, the ruling party vowed to continue on its present political course and to resist international pressure to enact reforms, saying “powerful nations” have used calls for human rights and democratic values only to interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs.
Reported by Vannarith Im for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.