One year on, CNRP fate unclear

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An activist removes a banner of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party last year. Heng Chivoan

A year after the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the fate of the former main opposition party remains unclear.

While its senior officials claim the Supreme Court-dissolution of their party is a “death knell for democracy” in Cambodia, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan on Sunday hailed it as a“victory for democracy”.

The CNRP was dissolved on November 16 last year, more than two months after its president Kem Sokha was arrested on treason charges after he was accused by Prime Minister Hun Sen of conspiring with the US to oust his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) government.

The court also imposed a five-year ban on political activity on another 118 senior CNRP officials.

Yet, as if taking the cue from former opposition leader and now Cambodia National Rescue Movement head, Sam Rainsy, party officials have expressed optimism that the CNRP would be reactivated under international pressure.

On the first anniversary of the dissolution of its party, the former CNRP on Friday issued a statement saying November 16 marked the “death knell for democracy” in Cambodia and its descent into dictatorship.

It claimed that for more than two decades, Cambodians within the Kingdom and its diasporas around the world had massive assistance from international communities and made great gains to usher in democracy and strengthen human rights as enshrined in the Paris Peace Agreements.

“Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party destroyed those gains with one broad sweep one year ago – [through] the abolition of the opposition party as well as the press and civil society."

“Cambodia reverted to one-party rule, reminiscent of the Khmer Rouge era of which Hun Sen and many senior CPP officials had their political development,” the statement said.

In the statement, the CNRP also called for the release and dropping of all charges against Sokha and other political prisoners, and demanded “a free, fair and just re-election”.

“The CNRP will not cease to respect the will of the people and will continue to stand firmly with the people,” it claimed.

Meanwhile, former CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua claimed on Facebook live on Saturday that the CNRP will be reactivated before the second anniversary of its dissolution, again citing international pressure.

“This is the first year anniversary of the dissolution of the CNRP, but I believe that there will be no second anniversary."

“The supreme court decision was a political tool of [a] dictator, which caused the death knell for democracy,” she said.

However, Siphan categorised the one year after the court dissolution of the CNRP as a “victory for democracy” in Cambodia because there have not been any demonstrations organised by “rebels on the streets”.

He called the former CNRP officials “hope” to reactivate their party as “impossible” and urged them to wait for five years before returning to the political arena.

“After the CNRP’s dissolution, Cambodians have enjoyed peace and development without any demonstrations on the streets. This is a ‘victory for democracy’ in Cambodia."

Siphan said the demand of “rebels” to reactivate the CNRP or release Kem Sokha is impossible.

“The court dissolution of the CNRP is an action to strengthen the rule of law, to make democracy move forward and recognise the will of the people,” he said.

Political analyst Hang Pitou said the former CNRP officials could create a new party rather than wait to see their former party reactivated.

“The percentage to reactivate CNRP is very small,” he said.

“To ‘mourn’ the anniversary of its dissolution is not important. The important thing is negotiation … to remind people of the dissolution is one thing. But sometimes mourning the situation makes it worse,” Vitou said, citing the current tension between Hun Sen and Rainsy.