Supporters of former opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha have taken to social media to debate and pledge their allegiances to one or the other’s cause after Sokha announced that they were no longer unified in their beliefs.
In a Facebook post on November 29, Muth Chantha – former chief of Sokha’s cabinet – compared the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to a house that Rainsy and Sokha had built together, saying Rainsy was the one who demolished it after packing his belongings and moving elsewhere.
The CNRP was originally formed by merging the Sam Rainsy Party with Sokha’s Human Rights Party. Chantha compared the resurgence of the Candlelight Party – which is the Sam Rainsy Party rebranded – to Rainsy moving back into his old house.
Rainsy recently stated that CNRP members who leave the defunct party and form a new one are betrayers. Chantha pointed out that it was Rainsy himself who left the CNRP for the Candlelight Party, though it does not bear his name and he is not officially or publicly involved with it yet.
“The Candlelight Party was reinstated. It is equivalent to Sam Rainsy withdrawing himself from the former CNRP because without the Candlelight Party in the former CNRP, there is no Sam Rainsy in it either. Therefore, only the Human Rights Party is in the former CNRP now,” Chantha said.
Pang Sokhoeun, who is a Rainsy supporter living abroad, said on November 29 that without Rainsy, the CNRP would already be completely dead and there was nothing wrong with the Candlelight Party holding its congress.
“If we do not do anything, we will die because we cannot increase our strength. We cannot strengthen the spirit of solidarity or act as a check on the activities of the ruling party. But we can do those things at will if it’s through another party or the [Candlelight Party]. When we save the nation we can all come back together and the divisions will be over,” he said.
He added that the most important thing is that Rainsy has always instructed party leaders and supporters to unite their strengths and consider Sokha and Rainsy to be one person in spirit.
He pointed out that Rainsy has prohibited his supporters from retaliating against Sokha’s supporters even though they continue to attack him personally and he has even encouraged his supporters to continue to respect and admire Sokha for the sake of the nation.
Meanwhile, CNRP supporters in the US issued a statement on November 26 saying Rainsy and his fellow politicians continued to use Sokha’s name and image and the slogan “Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are one person” to deceive the public and cover up their wrongdoing to benefit certain individuals and their associates.
“Sam Rainsy and his associates left to form an illegal movement for purposes of self-promotion while insulting the King. They recently declared their support for other political parties, which clearly proves their acts are contrary to – and violate the spirit of – unity with Kem Sokha,” the statement said.
The US-based CNRP supporters once again called on Rainsy and his associates to put an immediate stop to using Sokha’s name and image as well as the old slogan.
More recently, on November 29, a group of roughly 50 Cambodians living in the US in Lowell, Massachusetts, held a protest with banners denouncing Rainsy for his suggestion that US-Cambodian dual citizens who support the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) should be deprived of their US citizenship by the US government.
Their signs alleged that Rainsy is a “convict”, “traitor”, “swindler” and “fake politician” and demanded that he stop hurting Cambodian-Americans and cheating them out of money.
Sokha’s daughter Kem Samathida also took to Twitter to express her anger at Rainsy.
“If your cause involves abusing your partner and silencing those defending themselves, then you’re not fighting [for] democracy. You’re fighting for your preferred dictatorship. I will no longer accept any misinformation spread through mouthpieces and uninformed and biased outlets,” she tweeted.
Samathida went on to say that ever since the arrest of her father, Rainsy’s closest allies have maintained a constant smear campaign against him and his family while talking about unity the whole time.
“My family put up with Rainsy’s smears for decades. From his false and racist claims that we were Vietnamese to his sexist attacks on my sister following my father’s arrest. Any self-proclaimed anti-racist and feminist who defends Rainsy should be known as the hypocritical fools that they are,” she wrote.
Em Sovannara, a professor of political science and analyst, is of the view that Sokha and Rainsy have been at odds with each other for some time now.
“Sokha’s announcement just makes the rupture with Rainsy official – but it isn’t recent,” he said.
Sovannara said Sokha splitting from Rainsy may hurt Sokha more in terms of political support than it hurts Rainsy because Sokha’s ability to mobilise support was always somewhat limited compared to Rainsy’s.