Deputy Leader of Cambodia’s Banned Opposition Jumps Ship to Join New Party

Pol Ham’s move comes as Cambodia National Rescue Party figures seek ‘political rehabilitation’ nearly four years after crackdown.
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Deputy Leader of Cambodia’s Banned Opposition Jumps Ship to Join New Party Supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party stage a rally on the last day of the commune election campaign in the capital Phnom Penh, June 2, 2017.

A senior leader from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has left the banned political group and joined a new party after the country’s King Norodom Sihamoni granted his request for “political rehabilitation” on Thursday.

CNRP Deputy President Pol Ham said he made the move to join the Cambodian Reform Party, set up by a former CNRP lawmaker, so he can run in June 5, 2022, commune elections, and because he cannot wait until general elections in July 2023.

Pol Ham, CNRP President Kem Sokha, and other CNRP members recently requested “rehabilitation” from Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior in an attempt to have their political rights restored.

The politician said he made the request because he wanted to regain the right to be involved in the country’s politics.

“I have not done anything for the past three years and six months so I think now it is time to have the political ban lifted,” he told RFA, adding that he now wants to combine Cambodia’s small political parties and recently rehabilitated CNRP politicians.

“I want to see another opposition party in which all leaders are former CNRP members,” he said. “We can’t get the CNRP back, but there is no law that prevents us from using the same CNRP spirit, so that we comply with the law. We can’t be too extreme.”

Pol Ham also said that he used to be close to Kem Sokha, but now the two politicians have different strategies.

The former CNRP president is trying to convince Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to discuss a political solution to the country’s prolonged political stalemate and has asked other countries for help, Suon So Rida, a former CNRP lawmaker and Kem Sokha loyalist, told RFA in an earlier report.

Prime Minister Hun Sen had Kem Sokha arrested for treason in September 2017, and the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court two months later, over an unsubstantiated claim he plotted to overthrow the government. The court ruling also removed the political rights of 118 CNRP elected lawmakers for five years.

Kem Sokha went on trial in January 2020 but the hearings were suspended two months later on the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic. Hun Sen has hinted that the trial may conclude until 2024, long after the next election cycle. In the meantime, Kem Sokha remains under judicial supervision and must refrain from engaging in political activities in Cambodia.

The CPP easily won all 125 parliamentary seats in the 2018 elections after removing the opposition party and spearheading a crackdown on NGOs and the independent media.

Starting at the grassroots level

Pol Ham said his colleagues requested that he join the new party.

“Speaking the truth, I am interested in the Cambodia Reform Party,” he said. “I support the party.”

When asked about the new party’s prospects in next year’s commune elections, Pol Ham said he expected that candidates from the new party would receive some votes.

“It’s better to get some rather than none,” he said.

In the meantime, Pol Ham said it would be best for CNRP officials both inside and outside Cambodia to band together to compete in the elections.

“We can start with the commune elections because it is very important to have representatives at the grassroots level to resolve the problems of their constituencies,” he said.

Pol Ham also said that in his letter requesting political rehabilitation, he did not apologize, but rather thanked King Norodom Sihamoni for “giving me justice and giving me the freedom” to be involved in politics

At a news conference on Asia’s future on Thursday, Hun Sen told reporters that about 20 parties will compete in the elections in 2022 and 2023, and that Cambodia will move forward with its democratic process.

“Those who were banned from politics and requested political rehabilitation have formed parties,” he said. “Yesterday, I requested that the king allow two people to participate in politics. I knew that they were planning to establish a party, so the democratic process in Cambodia will continue.”

Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath, whose political rights were reinstated more than two years ago, announced in January that his newly formed Cambodian Reform Party would run against the CPP in the upcoming elections.

Ex-CNRP lawmakers have launched three other parties — the Khmer Will Party founded in 2018 by Kong Monika, the Khmer Conservative Party former in 2019 by Real Camerin, and the Cambodian Nation Love Party founded in early 2020 by Chiv Kakada.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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