Opposition Deputy President Mu Sochua speaks to the press yesterday outside CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh.
Opposition Deputy President Mu Sochua speaks to the press yesterday outside CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

CNRP unifies message on 2018

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay sought to lay down a unified party line yesterday, saying the opposition would push through the current political upheaval and contest next year’s critical national election, setting straight conflicting statements coming from various party officials.

Son Chhay’s announcement comes a day after Cambodia National Rescue Party Deputy President Mu Sochua said the government’s refusal to release jailed party President Kem Sokha – who is facing “treason” charges – could result in a boycott of the next year’s election.

Following Sokha’s surprise arrest on September 3 – after an old video resurfaced of him saying that he had received US assistance to plan his political career – CNRP lawmakers have made varying comments on the party’s plans regarding next year’s election and the possibility of demonstrations, a proposal voiced by party Deputy President Eng Chhay Eang last week.

However, Chhay yesterday said that the party had only one “destination” – working towards competing in the next election, with the hope that an amicable solution could be found to the current political crisis. “This is the wish of the permanent committee that has already decided that we continue our work as usual,” he said at a press conference at party headquarters.

“But we hope that from today until election day, with the international community’s [support], and citizens’ protests, we will push the situation back to normal and acceptable – a situation where the elections are equal, just and right in 2018,” he added.

Son Chhay said any personal opinions from lawmakers should not be considered, given that the party’s permanent committee, board of members and annual congress were the only bodies entitled to make such decisions.

Deputy President Sochua yesterday maintained that she and Chhay were making the same point, albeit in different ways. She said Chhay’s requirement that elections be free and fair included the release of Sokha and was similar to her statements about a possible boycott, made on Monday outside the Tbong Khmum prison holding the opposition leader.

“The opposition is very clear that we will contest elections,” she said. “But it has to be free and fair, which is the release of Kem Sokha.”

However, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan called the opposition a “no stance” party, pointing to the contradictory statements made by its members. “Mu Sochua said like this and other leaders said like that. So it means this party has no face. They have no political stance,” Eysan said.

Meanwhile, the CNRP has said it will hold a Pchum Ben memorial ceremony for the victims of the 1997 grenade attack on a political rally organised by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy. The party plans to hold the gathering near Wat Botum, close to the Ministry of Justice, where there is a memorial for the victims.

However, City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said the party could not conduct its event because Pchum Ben holiday ceremonies were meant to be held in pagodas, adding that the party was banned from performing rituals at the site – despite similar annual excursions in the past.

Sochua yesterday said the party’s right to religious expression could not be confined only to pagodas and that the CNRP would go ahead with the event.