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Sokha Again Distances Himself from Rainsy

Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s former opposition leader, Kem Sokha, is once again distancing himself from his former political partner, Sam Rainsy. He’s also putting space between himself and a handful of new political parties who are using his name to try and garner support ahead of the 2022 Commune Elections. The Director of Sokha’s cabinet, Muth Chantha, took to Facebook this week to launch a broadside against Rainsy who remains in exile in France. He issued a 12-point post that amounted to a political divorce settlement.

As you may know, Sokha is the former leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party. He’s facing a treason trial but was released on bail in November 2018. The year before he’d been arrested at his home in Phnom Penh and charged with “conspiracy with foreign powers”. That charge relates to comments he allegedly made in 2013 about the United States helping him to push for regime change in the kingdom.

Last November his bail restrictions were eased, still banning him from politics for five years, but allowing him to travel freely within the country although he is still not allowed to travel abroad. Many political figures, including Rainsy, appear to have taken that softening by the courts as a sign that Sokha is fair game and his name is once again carrying political capital.

Sokha, however, is having none of it. Already back in February this year he was issuing statements through his lawyers asking that his former political colleagues not use his name or their previous political associations to try and drum up support for their new parties. At the time, the president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, Pa Chanroeun, was quoted as saying that the statements from Sokha’s lawyers were fair and aimed at protecting him, with him remaining under a political ban.

Which brings us to this week’s Facebook post by Sokha’s cabinet director, Muth Chantha, which takes aim at Sam Rainsy. He says the exiled former co-leader of the CNRP is the real power behind the newly-formed “National Heart Party” which was approved by the Ministry of Interior back in June. It plans to run for the commune and general elections in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Its registered leader is Siem Phluk, although Muth Chantha believes the strings are really being pulled by former CNRP stalwarts Eng Chhay Eang and Mu Sochua at Rainsy’s direction, who has also been using Facebook and Sokha’s name to drum up support.

He recently posted that “Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are one and the same person." Chantha says while it all sounds “sweet and meaningful”, he says the opposite is true. He’s accused Rainsy of trying to mislead the masses with the intent to exploit Sokha and make life more difficult for him. In his own Facebook post, Chantha says what Rainsy has done and continues to do, “is contrary to the principles of the CNRP”. He says Rainsy is insulting Sokha’s sacrifice. He goes onto say that Rainsy must take individual responsibility for his own actions and that two people cannot possibly be one and the same.

He’s further accused Rainsy of using his recent slogan to deliberately embed Kem Sokha in politics and link him with other crimes that Rainsy has been convicted of, chief of which was an alleged plot to overthrow the government back in 2019. Rainsy was sentenced in absentia in March this year to 25 years in prison. Chantha says Rainsy’s ongoing rhetoric is extremist and that Sokha remains adamant that he’s staying out of politics and wants others to stop using his name.

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