CNRP Rift Out in the Open as Kem Sokha Distances Himself from Rainsy

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CNRP co-founders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy (VOD)

Former CNRP president Kem Sokha made his clearest move to distance himself from the Sam Rainsy faction of the dissolved opposition party, claiming he had nothing to do with Rainsy’s decision to direct supporters to the reactivated Candlelight Party.

Sokha took to Facebook on Sunday, a day after the Candlelight Party held a party congress, and said Rainsy and his supporters were using the under-trial leader’s name and image for their activities.

“Moreover, Mr. Sam Rainsy and his colleagues walked away from the original principles and spirit of unity to create various political movements and positions personally, especially recently, to return to openly supporting or backing their old political party which is the Candlelight Party,” Sokha’s post read.

This meant that “Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are not the same person,” and Sokha asked that Rainsy and his colleagues stop using him to push their campaigns.

Sokha was arrested in 2017 and has been under court supervision since 2018 when he was released from Tbong Khmum’s CC3 prison, but remains charged with treason in a trial that has been delayed since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rainsy has been in exile since 2015, and attempted to return to Cambodia in November 2019 but said he was prevented from boarding a flight from France to Thailand. Other senior CNRP leadership, like Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang, left the country following Sokha’s arrest.

Rainsy had not responded to requests for comment as of publication, but took to Facebook to address Sokha’s comment in a short post.

“This statement is the result of threats from Hun Sen who dreads unity among Cambodian democrats and who is holding Kem Sokha hostage,” Rainsy wrote on Facebook.

The CNRP was formed in 2012 after Sokha’s Human Rights Party and the Sam Rainsy Party combined forces, narrowly losing to the CPP in the 2013 national election. Rumors have swirled of infighting between the two factions, some of which has come to the fore following the party’s dismantling in 2017.

Expanding on her father’s Facebook announcement, Kem Monovithya said Sam Rainsy’s call for CNRP supporters to return to the Candlelight Party fold, which was formerly the Sam Rainsy Party, was the latest trigger for her father’s comments.

She said this was not the first time Sokha had to rebuke Rainsy’s position on issues.

“Numerous such statements were officially made by his lawyers and myself on his behalf while he was still in CC3 prison and again multiple times when he was out of prison,” said Monovithya, who was also a CNRP official before its dissolution and now lives overseas.

Asked about the Cambodia Reform Party, formed by Sokha allies Ou Chanrath and Pol Ham ahead of the upcoming commune elections, Monovithya said they too had been asked to not use Sokha’s image or name in their party or while campaigning.

Illustrating the rift between the two factions, Monovithya didn’t mince her words when talking about the former CNRP president.

“It’s been an ugly divide, one that is filled with disinformation and libels from the Sam Rainsy camp against Kem Sokha, his family and former HRP officials,” she said. “Sam Rainsy has been a narcissistic, abusive, gaslighting, sociopathic partner to Kem Sokha.”

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