The ruling party continued to tout purported defections to its ranks over the weekend, months after the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the nation’s only viable opposition – was dissolved at the government’s behest.
In a ceremony in Bati district’s Komar Reachea commune on Sunday, 344 people – 44 of them purportedly former CNRP youth activists – pledged their allegiance to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party.
The ceremony comes more than two months after the CNRP – the only legitimate challenger to the CPP in this year’s elections – was dissolved in a widely condemned decision by the Supreme Court. In the lead-up to and aftermath of the dissolution, Hun Sen repeatedly promised that CNRP officials could keep their jobs if they defected.
Ou Sokchea, a CPP district council member at Sunday’s event, said there was a “commitment testimony” for former CNRP members, who “defected because they are self aware”.
“We don’t promise to give anything to them; they want to become our members of the CPP because their party leaders are split and they saw their party was already dissolved,” Sokchea said.
However, Mao Sophal, director of the CNRP’s provincial executive committee, said he didn’t believe the 44 were “active” members of his former party.
“The CNRP system is already gone, dissolved. This is just a picture that they try to portray,” he said of the ceremony.
Such defections – where new converts are clothed in CPP garb and sometimes burn symbols of the CNRP – have long been ridiculed as political theatre. An almost identical defection ceremony took place in the same commune more than a year ago.
As the CPP called for defections, many ex-CNRP members reported being subjected to surveillance and harassment, with one former commune chief saying the push was still ongoing.
In Siem Reap, former CNRP Sala Kamroeuk Commune Chief Chin Sok Ngeng accused Sorn Chean of lobbying him to join the CPP, despite his supposed impartiality as a former provincial election official.
“Where is your transparency and independence as an arbitrator? I think this shows that NEC officials are not acting independently, transparently and neutrally toward their rivals,” Sok Ngeng said.
Chean said he had given up the electoral role 18 months ago and now worked for the CPP, and that he simply hinted that Sok Ngeng should swap sides.
Khut Navy, a former councillor from the same commune, said she had temporarily fled to Thailand to avoid ruling party officials coming to her house and asking her to join their ranks.
“I already decided that I would not go to work with robbers who have robbed me of my position and robbed the will of people,” she said.