Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha paid a visit to a jailed election commission official today as attempts to free opposition politicians and government critics from prison continues.
Kem Sokha, the CNRP’s acting president, told reporters very little following his visit with Ny Chakrya, the National Election Committee’s deputy leader who was jailed as part of the government’s wide-ranging probe into an alleged affair between Kem Sokha and a young hair dresser.
“I am not the one who will sign to release him,” Kem Sokha said as he left the prison in downtown Phnom Penh where the election official is being held.
While Kem Sokha was taciturn with reporters, CNRP lawmaker Long Ry said they were looking for a way to get Ny Chakrya released.
“Acting President Kem Sokha has met in person with Ny Chakrya,” said Long Ry, who was also at the prison. “He has asked him to remain patient while he is looking into all possible means to find a solution.”
Hope for Ny Chakrya’s release and the release of four human rights workers imprisoned in the probe were raised when Kem Sokha and a CNRP commune chief received royal pardons in the wide-ranging case. Both pardons came at the behest of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen who also heads the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
On May 2, Cambodian authorities arrested Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) staffers Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony, as well as Ny Chakrya for allegedly attempting to pay hush money to Kem Sokha’s purported mistress.
Theam Chan Piseth, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge investigating the charges has decided to close his investigations into the allegations, but it is unclear what the next steps will be, the Khmer Times reported.
The judge declined to say whether the case would proceed to trial or if the court might drop the charges against the Kem Sokha Five, the paper reported.
‘We cannot be bought’
While Kem Sokha is meeting with opposition prisoners, CNRP President Sam Rainsy wrote in a Facebook post that rumors of the demise of their partnership were exaggerated.
The two men have led the CNRP since Sam Rainsy left Cambodia last year after he was given a two-year prison sentence in a defamation case. It is not his only conviction handed down by the Cambodian courts to the CNRP leader, and earlier this year he was barred from entering the country.
Kem Sokha was recently elevated to president of CNRP National Assembly Members, a position roughly analogous to minority leader in the U.S. Congress and one that had been held by Sam Rainsy.
While CPP leaders have painted the change as a split between the two leaders, they deny there’s any friction.
“Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha represent honor and hope for Cambodian people,” Sam Rainsy posted on his Facebook feed. “These two Cambodian sons signify the great and dignified Cambodian children who do not give in to threats or intimidation.
“We cannot be bought,” he added. “He who is attempting to break us is unquestionably dreaming.”
Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Suos Yara told local reporters on December 12, that Sam Rainsy appears to be hallucinating after he left the position.
In his Facebook posts, Sam Rainsy compared the two parties to boats racing across the Mekong River with the CPP in a doomed luxury liner and the CNRP manning smaller more seaworthy boats.
“Knowing they will never reach any shore in 2018 and facing possible death in the middle of the river, the big ship's passengers start to jump out into the river,” he wrote. “I call on the small boats and their passengers to set out to go rescue those who are in danger of getting drowned because they all are Cambodians and human beings.”
Cambodian national elections are scheduled for 2018 and local elections in 2017. While the CPP still controls the National Assembly, the CNRP gained 55 seats in the 2013 election that was marred by accusations of fraud.
Cambodians are using a new digital voter registration system that is designed to combat those allegations.
The new system is part of a 2014 election reform deal between the CPP and opposition CNRP that ended almost a year of deadlock following the 2013 ballot.
Reported by Savi Khorn and Naline Pea for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.