Former members of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have announced their decision to form a new political party following the trial of former president Kem Sokha.
An assistant to Sokha and one of his lawyers have expressed dismay at him being connected to the new political party.
Eight ex-members of the CNRP, including former lawmakers Chiv Cata and Kang Kimhak, as well as committee board member Sim Sovanny announced the formation of the new political party last Thursday in a bid to return to the political stage.
Cata, Kimhak and Sovanny were politically rehabilitated early this year following the dissolution of the CNRP in late 2017 and 118 of its members banned from political activity.
The announcement said the prospective party would be the successor to all former opposition parties and would be made up of those who had a different vision to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
It also appealed to former opposition members and all Cambodians to join with them “for the sake of the nation”.
“This new political party will be a political mechanism to negotiate with the ruling party to demand freedom for Kem Sokha, protect the interests of millions of workers and solve the nation’s major problems,” the announcement said.
One of the eight co-founders said on condition of anonymity that the party’s name and major policies would be made public after its official announcement, possibly in February following Sokha’s trial for treason in mid-January.
The co-founder said forming the party was intended to see former CNRP officials return to politics, including from among the supporters of co-founders Sokha and Sam Rainsy, currently the “acting president” of the CNRP.
However, he said the presidency would be left unoccupied as it was intended that Sokha be invited to fill the role if he could return to the political arena after his trial.
The source said the new party was to be formed as it was not believed that the CNRP could be reborn after its dissolution. He said Sokha would not return to his previous Human Rights Party because to do so would demonstrate a split with Rainsy.
Early this year, nine of the 118 banned CNRP senior members were rehabilitated, including well-known former Takeo lawmaker Ou Chanrath.
However, Chanrath said on Sunday that he was not involved with the new party. He said he was asked to join but declined.
“This decision was made by them. I was not involved in that decision because I think the formation of a new party does not meet the current situation in the country.
“We are following the trial of Kem Sokha and whether access to the [EU’s] ‘Everything But Arms’ scheme would be retained,” Chanrath said.
He said he did not think the new party would be successful because its members were not among the high-profile figures that could win the hearts of CNRP supporters.
“I don’t think there will be much attention paid to this new party,” Chanrath said.
News of the formation of the party was met with criticism by some close to Sokha.
“Those who are attempting to form a new political party should stay true to their [party’s] principles and policies to help the nation. They should not try to link themselves to other people,” said Muth Chantha, the director of Sokha’s cabinet in reference to Sokha.
Chan Chen, one of Sokha’s four defence lawyers, said he was dismayed to hear that the founders of the new party had attached themselves to his client.
“It is regretful to hear that people who used to be [Sokha’s] colleagues and who used to work with him have done this. It is their right to form a new party, but they must not link themselves with people just for political gain,” Chen said.