The Cambodian National Rescue Party yesterday signalled that acting president Kem Sokha would take the helm of the opposition, flanked by three deputies – Pol Ham, Eng Chhay Eang and Mu Sochua.
According to CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, the party yesterday resolved to vote in three deputies beneath Sokha, who is the only candidate for the presidency. A vote will take place on Thursday at an extraordinary congress of some 1,100 members.
There are only three candidates for the deputy roles, Sovann said: Ham, formerly of Sokha’s Human Rights Party, and Chhay Eang and Sochua, who belonged to the Sam Rainsy Party prior to the two parties joining to create the CNRP.
The leadership reshuffle was prompted by the recent resignation of former CNRP president Sam Rainsy, which in turn was triggered by new amendments to the Law on Political Parties.
Those amendments, passed by the Senate yesterday, forbid people with criminal convictions to head political parties, and open the door to a potential dissolving of the opposition.
While Sokha was pardoned by the King over a “prostitution” scandal last year – taking him out of the amendments’ crosshairs – a legal cloud still hangs over Sochua, and Chhay Eang has been dogged by ongoing problems with gambling, an illegal practice for Cambodians.
Sochua, formerly of Funcinpec, was counter-sued for defamation by Prime Minister Hun Sen and found guilty in 2009.
Chhay Eang resigned from the Sam Rainsy Party twice – in 2008 and in 2005 – citing his gambling problem, an issue that resurfaced on social media just last month.
Sochua and Ham – the party’s former number three – both declined to comment on their candidacy yesterday.
But Chhay Eang swatted away criticism that his past might see him targeted under the new laws.
“I do not care about someone speaking [about me]. What’s important is my esteem in myself; if I am not bad, I do not care; if I am bad, I would care. My supporters, they know me clearly,” he said.
Sovann said bolstering the deputy role to three people was not influenced by the political law amendments. “We have a lot of human resources and a lot of party [tasks], so we need four leaders to handle the situation,” he said.
When asked if Sochua’s or Chhay Eang’s histories could be used against the party, Sovann said private matters should be discussed in the kitchen and the interests of the nation discussed on the political stage.
“The environmental destruction, deforestation, corruption, poverty, selling state assets – it’s criminal,” he said.
“Why not focus our time and energy on these issues, so if you [are going] to raise small discretions, please do not come to the CNRP leaders [with these].”
Political analyst Meas Ny yesterday said the leadership reshuffle was necessary ahead of the commune elections on June 4, with a list of commune candidates due this weekend.
“In my view, the CNRP needed to strengthen their leadership component, because the CNRP realises there might be more storms, more pressure placed on their leadership,” he said, saying three could bear the brunt better than one.
“I think more allegations will be set up in the coming months against those who are nominated, unless it was the intention [of the CPP] to get rid of Sam Rainsy and have Kem Sokha as president. If it is the old game . . . soon we will see some of the leadership members involved in more court cases.
“Let’s wait and see. I think so far the CNRP might get enough experience on how to swim in the river with a lot of crocodiles and tigers.”
He added that having four leaders, two from each faction of the party, could help meld any fissures between them.
The CNRP decision to create three deputies, instead of one, means the party will also have to change its current bylaws.
“We need to make an amendment to the party constitution . . . because according to the existing constitution, there is only one vice president, and now we nominate three,” Sovann said,
It remained unclear yesterday what that would mean for the balance of power within the party, and if Sokha would have the ability to veto decisions.