Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and government officials are pressuring elected members of the political opposition to defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, threatening them with loss of their jobs in the event that their own party is dissolved, sources say.
Speaking in a video clip on his Facebook page on Nov. 4, Hun Sen called for members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to leave and join the CPP.
Hun Sen has threatened to shut down the CNRP for allegedly collaborating with the U.S. to topple the ruling party, a move critics say show the prime minister is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of next year’s national elections.
In October, Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni approved a set of controversial amendments to the country’s electoral law, paving the way for the dissolution of the CNRP and the reallocation of its parliamentary seats to government-aligned parties.
Commune councilor positions won by the CNRP in local elections held in June will also be redistributed in the event that the party is dissolved by order of Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Nov. 16.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Yim Phally, CNRP party member and chief of Kauk Chork commune in Siem Reap province, said that she and other CNRP commune chiefs had been invited by authorities to attend a Nov. 6 viewing of Hun Sen’s video calling on CNRP members to defect, adding that she had refused to go.
Chhorn Kimkhorn, chief of Siem Reap’s Slor Kram commune also refused to attend, he told RFA, adding that he is prepared to lose his position if his party is outlawed.
“I cannot join his party, since this is against my political views. Destiny will scold me if I make such a wrong decision,” he said.
“If I had wanted to be rich or better off, I would never have joined the opposition party, since I know that the opposition has suffered a lot of difficulties and has encountered many dangers.”
“If I have to make my living as a farmer or a scavenger, I will not hesitate to do so,” he added.
Loss of trust
Separately, CNRP commune councilors in Pursant and Svay Rieng provinces said they had also been lobbied, with Phum Than, councilor for Svay Rieng’s Tuol Sdey commune, saying that a local CPP official, Prak Din, had urged him to defect so that he could continue in his position.
“I told him that I am not concerned about my position, since I was voted into office by the people. Even if I lose my job and my salary, I can still live normally,” he said.
Prak Din denied having pressured Phum Than, however, telling RFA that he was concerned only with registering new voters at his workplace.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Svay Rieng resident told RFA that government moves to dissolve the CNRP have caused people to lose their trust in the fairness of elections in Cambodia.
“Citizens are the ones who elect and empower politicians,” he said. “I don’t know why the government has made [Cambodia’s] people suffer like this.”
“As a citizen, I don’t support the prime minister’s actions,” he said.
CNRP lawmaker for Pursat province Ngim Nheng meanwhile called on authorities to find and punish the unknown persons who had posted on social media a false notice in his name on Nov. 1 calling jailed CNRP leader Kem Sokha a traitor and saying he was leaving the CNRP to join the CPP.
“I reject the contents of this fake letter,” Ngim Nheng wrote on his Facebook page on Nov. 6.
“I call on competent authorities to investigate this matter so that the offender(s) will be arrested and prosecuted in accordance with the law. I solemnly declare that I will absolutely never betray the will of our voters,” he said.
Cambodian government authorities often fail to move promptly to solve cases involving the political opposition, though, Yoeung Sotheara, senior official of the legal affairs section for the Phnom Penh-based Committee for Free and Fair Elections, told RFA.
“This has resulted in prejudice and disputes in our society, and as a result, people are losing trust in our judicial system.”
“Authorities must handle these cases in a way that ensures equality before the law,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.