Five former senior officials from Cambodia’s banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) applied for political rehabilitation from the government on Monday, while a sixth was approved, bringing to nine the total number who have asked to have their rights reinstated.
Former CNRP lawmakers Ou Chanroth, Kang Kimhak and Chiv Kata, and former CNRP board of directors members Tep Sothy and Chan Seyla applied for rehabilitation to the Ministry of Interior, while former CNRP lawmaker Real Camrin’s request was granted by King Norodom Sihamoni on Monday.
The six join former CNRP officials Sim Sovanny and Kong Bora, and Kong Bora’s father, former president of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) Kong Koam, who have requested royal pardons. Requests by Kong Bora and Kong Koam were granted in January, while Sim Sovanny was granted a pardon earlier this month.
CNRP President Kem Sokha was arrested in September 2017 for alleged acts of “treason” and the Supreme Court ordered the party’s dissolution two months later, which paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in a July 2018 general election.
The Supreme Court also slapped a five-year ban on the political activities of 118 CNRP senior officials for the party’s role in an alleged plot to topple the government.
In December last year, Hun Sen’s Constitutional Council unanimously approved an amendment to the draft law on political parties, paving the way for the reinstatement of rights to the 118 CNRP officials banned from politics by the Supreme Court’s decision.
The legislation does not provide for the reestablishment of the CNRP, and Hun Sen has said the political rights of the officials will only be reinstated on an individual basis if they had “shown respect for the Supreme Court’s ruling,” and provided they each make an individual request.
Ou Chanroth on Monday refused to comment on why he decided to appeal for clemency, when questioned by RFA’s Khmer Service.
“I will comment when my political rights are fully restored and I will hold a press conference in Phnom Penh on Tuesday,” he said.
“I know you can’t understand the decision, but I am trying to make an effort to solve problems.”
Former CNRP lawmaker Real Camrin had submitted his request for clemency on March 14, saying he planned to form a new party to compete in Cambodia’s 2022 commune elections and 2023 national ballot, and advised other banned officials to also request rehabilitation as a way to resolve the country’s political crisis.
Government-aligned media reported that Real Camrin’s new party will be named the “Khmer People Party.”
RFA was unable to reach the former CNRP lawmaker for comment on his reported plans to form a party.
Offer of clemency
Hun Sen’s offer of clemency is widely seen as part of a bid to ease international pressure on his government in response to a crackdown on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media. Critics have called it a “trap” aimed at fracturing the CNRP, and CNRP activists say those who apply for reinstatement are “opportunists” who are betraying the interests of the public.
Acting CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a string of what he says are politically motivated convictions, has urged the 118 to refrain from appealing for political rehabilitation, and said those who do will be branded “traitors.”
Hun Sen last week warned those who have not asked for clemency that he might rescind the offer by Khmer New Year in April.
The Phnom Penh Post on Monday cited one of the 118 as saying anonymously that “47 banned CNRP officials were preparing to make rehabilitation requests,” but may do so at different times.
Svay Rieng Provincial CNRP President Mao Vibol said Monday that the political lives of CNRP senior officials who request rehabilitation will be “over,” as the people will stop supporting them.
“People are boiling for change and they will detest those who request political rehabilitation, as all Cambodians are entitled to take part in politics,” he told RFA.
“People hate the present rulers, so those who bow down their heads to the regime and suppress their will become even more hated.”
Political analyst Bong Deth echoed Mao Vibol’s suggestion that those who have capitulated to Hun Sen will suffer a backlash in popular opinion.
“The CNRP became the victim when it was dissolved by Hun Sen’s regime, but these officials now appear to be joining hands with Hun Sen to finish off the opposition,” he said.
“There is nothing to gain, since all power rests with the CPP. More than 5,000 local CNRP councilors, as well as all of the public, are watching them, and they are angry.”
Meanwhile, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Sunday made public its decision to issue arrest warrants for Sam Rainsy, who has said he plans to return to Cambodia in 2019, and seven other top CNRP officials living abroad on charges of “treason and incitement to commit felonies” under articles 453, 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code, both within and outside the country from Jan. 20-27 this year.
Also named in the warrant, dated March 12, are CNRP vice presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang, and CNRP lawmakers Ou Chanrith, Tok Vanchan, Long Ry, Ho Vann, and Men Sothavrin.
The eight were in attendance at the first “CNRP Permanent Committee” meeting in Lowell, Massachusetts on Jan. 20, when Sam Rainsy was official appointed acting party president while Kem Sokha remained in pre-trial detention facing charges of treason.
Kem Sokha is yet to face trial and has been held either in jail or under house arrest despite passing the 18-month maximum allowed by law in pre-trial detention earlier this month.
The Khmer Times on Monday cited Brigadier General Y Sok Khy, director of the counter terrorism and cross border crime department at the Interior Ministry, as saying he has evidence that the eight CNRP officials posted on social media calling on the public to stand up against the government.
On Sunday, Sam Rainsy held a press conference in Massachusetts to announce the establishment of a new committee charged with organizing his return to Cambodia sometime this year, without providing further details about when he plans to travel back to the country.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.