Cambodia ruling party is buying young environmentalists with senior government posts

Political activists are also being offered posts ahead of the July general election.
By RFA Khmer
2023.02.23

Twin brothers and former activists Chhum Huot and Chhum Hour hold a sign reading "We no longer fall into Sam Rainsy's traps anymore," referring to the acting president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party. Credit: Citizen journalist
Twin brothers and former activists Chhum Huot and Chhum Hour hold a sign reading "We no longer fall into Sam Rainsy's traps anymore," referring to the acting president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party. Credit: Citizen journalist

Environmental workers and opposition party members are being offered jobs in the government by Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party as a way of weakening any competition ahead of the July general election, activists say.

At least eight activists have recently joined the CPP and taken government positions.

Twin brothers Chhum Huot and Chhum Hour have been very active in the fight to protect Cambodia’s forests. They recently joined the ruling party and were appointed to senior positions at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. 

Chhum Huot told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday that he voluntarily joined the CPP without any intimidation and will look for ways to improve the ministry. 

"The government doesn't use its force to abuse its citizens,” he said. “If there are abuses, such human rights abuses and illegal logging, we will continue to criticize the government. We will file a report to the government to prevent those abuses."

Muong Sopheak, whose conviction in 2020 on an incitement charge following a protest was widely condemned, has also joined with the CPP, along with his brother, political activist Muong Sony. The government hasn't appointed them to any specific positions yet.

After joining the CPP, the brothers publicly condemned opposition leader Sam Rainsy, the acting president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party who has been barred from returning to Cambodia. The brothers said they have “stopped falling into Sam Rainsy's traps.”

Acting ‘for personal benefit’

The CPP is luring some activists and opposition party members to join the party in exchange for government positions while others are being pressured over their personal security, according to Um Sam An, a senior official in the CNRP who lives in the United States.

Former political activist Muong Sony, who has joined the Cambodian People’s Party, poses with Cambodian leader Hun Sen. Credit: Citizen journalist
Former political activist Muong Sony, who has joined the Cambodian People’s Party, poses with Cambodian leader Hun Sen. Credit: Citizen journalist

He added that those activists can't help reform the government and the CPP is just using them ahead of the election.

"Those activists acted for personal benefit and not for the national interest," Um Sam An told Radio Free Asia. 

It’s normal for the CPP to convince people to jump ship to the ruling party, CPP spokesman Sok Ey San told RFA. The government gives them positions according to their expertise, he said. 

"For the past 30 to 40 years, the CPP has given positions to youths appropriately, according to their knowledge," he said.

Similarly, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly offered government jobs to staff members of the recently shuttered Voice of Democracy, saying they could apply for positions without taking the required examination. The independent media outlet was ordered closed earlier this month, leaving Cambodia with no independent source of news.

But some activists resist

Adhoc President Ny Sokha said he’s not surprised by the CPP's strategy.

"The election is coming closer,” he said. “We don't oppose [youths joining the CPP], but so far I don't see those who have joined with the ruling party contributing anything to society. They tried at first, but later disappeared.” 

Activist Thun Ratha, who has faced prosecution in the past for his work with the Mother Nature NGO, said he won’t be selling out for a government position.

"It is sad for our country,” he said. “Those who are supposed to help the country, they shouldn't do it for their benefit. To me, I am ready to go to jail or be killed.”

Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Matt Reed and Paul Eckert.

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