A senior official of the Candlelight Party (CP) announced his intention to get to the bottom of the sudden defection of more than 600 party members to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). This came after the Banteay Meanchey CPP working group announced the new members on January 22, saying they had become disillusioned with a lack of clear policy from the CP.
CP secretary-general Ly Sothearayuth said his party is investigating the case.
“We are speaking to our own provincial branch officials to determine whether this is true. If it turns out to be correct, we will need to know the composition of those who quit the party, and find out how it happened,” he added.
“In general, before any election, some parties campaign for their rivals’ members to join them. This happens often, but is rarely successful. I believe it is often done to create the illusion of uncertainty and create rumours,” he continued.
He added that the CP, the country’s second-largest party, is busy building its resilience in the run-up to the general elections in July, and had no time to worry about such news.
On January 22, Ly Samet, a personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, claimed that 675 CP members in Banteay Meanchey had decided to join the CPP, saying that it was the premier’s “wisdom” that had attracted them to the ruling party.
“People have the right and the freedom to earn a living, practise their religion and follow their own political party. Many people choose to love and support the CPP, and hope it will lead the country forever,” he added.
He believed the members had jumped ship because they understood that the CP leadership offered no clear political position.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the news was true and that the defection was too large to hide.
““The comments made by the CP spokesperson are a poor attempt to save face. In recent days, many people have approached the CPP and asked to join with us. The leaders of the CP in Kampong Thom and the Khmer Islam Movement arm of the CP have also joined us,” he added.
“People have faith in the ruling party, which has delivered many achievements to the Kingdom and her people, including peace, national unity and development,” Eysan concluded.
Royal Academy of Cambodia secretary-general Yang Peou considered the news of political switches perfectly normal. According to the principles of any liberal multi-party democracy, citizens have the right to change their political affiliation at any time.
“I don’t see the current political climate as particularly tense. This seems fairly normal for the months leading up to an election. When a country a preparing to choose its leader, political competition is to be expected.
“Having said that, it is somewhat unusual for members of the opposition to join the ruling party ahead of the national election, but I think this may be because current CP political leadership is not stable. This could cause some members and supporters to lose faith and join other parties,” he added.
Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun said that although the Constitution clearly states that people have the right to join any party they choose, the constant changing that happens before every election makes it appear that some parties have an undue influence on others.
“The Kingdom’s multi-party liberal democracy began with the 1993 election, but every election since has featured political confrontations and a period of upheaval,” he noted.
According to Chanroeun, current politicians have shifted from employing violence as they did in the past to the use of the judiciary and pre-election laws to suppress their opponents. Overall, he said, Cambodian politicians have not been able to evolve into their roles in a multi-party liberal democracy.