Cambodia’s government has said it will closely investigate a new political “movement” launched by former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy following the dissolution of his party and take legal action if it is deemed unlawful.
Earlier this week, Sam Rainsy—who has lived in exile since 2015 to avoid convictions widely seen as politically motivated—unveiled to supporters in Houston, Texas his plan to launch the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) as a way around a ban on the CNRP, which was dissolved by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November for its alleged role in a plot to topple the government.
Sam Rainsy called the CNRM “a new framework with which we can carry out our activities without anyone daring to take action against us,” suggesting that the movement “cannot be dissolved” because it does not need to register and will not be subject to monitoring by government ministries.
On Tuesday, during an annual review meeting of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication in the capital Phnom Penh, Interior Minister Sar Kheng rejected the former CNRP chief’s suggestion that the CNRM need not register with his ministry.
“It is not [illegal] that such a movement be established, but it is important to determine whether the movement is legitimate or not,” said Sar Kheng—who is also Cambodia’s deputy prime minister.
“If this movement is deemed illegal, the authorities will take [legal] action.”
As part of its mission to “rescue the nation,” Sam Rainsy has said the CNRM seeks a resolution to the political impasse between the CNRP and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the release of CNRP President Kem Sokha—who was detained in September on charges of “treason”—and assurances of free and fair senate and general elections slated for February and July.
He said members of civil society organizations, human rights groups, land and environmental organizations, journalists, and others who cannot back political parties because of the work they do “can join a broader movement with concrete goals,” and that the CNRM would appeal for mass protests, calling on Cambodia’s armed forced to “stand with the people.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Tuesday confirmed an investigation into the CNRM is imminent, according to a report by the Phnom Penh Post, and said the movement was created by Sam Rainsy and other “illegal rebels” intent on overthrowing the Cambodian government.
He said demonstrations would not be allowed—despite protections for the right to demonstrate in the Constitution—and suggested that with Kem Sokha in detention and Sam Rainsy in exile, no one would lead the movement.
“[We] won’t allow it, and no one dares to do so … There is no leader,” the Post quoted him as saying.
“The civil society organizations also do not have leaders … There is no leader to give the order,” he added, warning NGOs that if they would be subject to legal action if they become involved.
CNRP deputy presidents Eng Chay Eang and Mu Sochua—both living in exile—were signatories to an announcement of the CNRM’s formation earlier this month. It was not immediately clear whether Kem Sokha was in support of the movement.
Call for election review
On Wednesday, Sam Rainsy reiterated calls for free and fair elections in a post on Twitter, saying Hun Sen should postpone the ballot until the opposition can ensure it will meet “minimum international standards to avoid violence and Cambodia becoming a pariah state.”
In recent weeks, the U.S. and EU condemned the Cambodian government’s targeting of the opposition ahead of elections this year, which they said had called the legitimacy of the votes into question, withdrawing electoral support and placing trade agreements with the Southeast Asian nation under review.
Hun Sen has repeatedly stressed that his country does not need foreign governments to fund its elections, or international recognition of their legitimacy, saying acceptance by Cambodians is sufficient.
He has also said that he will continue to welcome aid from China, which is poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s top foreign donor, and which is currently Cambodia’s largest international aid provider.
China typically offers aid to countries without many of the prerequisites that the U.S. and EU place on donations, such as improvements to human rights.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.