A slow trickle of former opposition CNRP members are making their way to the Candlelight Party ahead of the 2023 national elections, weeks after a five-year political ban was lifted.
The Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party in 2017 for mounting an alleged color revolution and banned 118 of its senior members from politics for five years. A small number of the former opposition party’s members indicated in the last few weeks they were considering rejoining politics.
Teav Vannol, president of Candlelight, which has emerged as the primary opposition to the Cambodian People’s Party, said two lawmakers, two provincial councilors and another official from the dissolved CNRP had joined the party since November 16, but he refused to reveal their names.
“They did not join with the dictatorship regime and decided to be patient till their ban ended with the aim that they did not want to join with the dictatorship regime,” he said, adding that none of the five had been assigned official positions in the party.
Chep Kim Eang, one of three vice presidents at Candlelight, was more forthright with information about new members. He said former lawmakers Chea Poch and Khimsour Phirith and banned CNRP official Mounh Sophan had joined the party and that former provincial councilors from Battambang, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were also taken in, but he was not sure of the numbers.
He was hopeful the party would be further bolstered by the potential inclusion of five or six former CNRP lawmakers residing overseas and said he would reveal their names only after they submitted official applications to Candlelight.
“They did not go anywhere, they did not join with other parties and returned back to the democratic party again, and the Candlelight Party is the core party that led to the creation of CNRP with the Human Rights Party,” Kim Eang said.
Phirith and Sophan were present at a Candlelight anniversary celebration in Phnom Penh on Sunday, where they did not clearly announce their membership of the party but were enthusiastic about its prospects.
“I also participate with you under the Candlelight Party to gain success in the upcoming 2023 election,” said Sophan.
“We have to keep unity strong so we can gain success and reach the goal we want,” said Phirith.
One former CNRP member moving in the opposite direction is Dam Sith.
The former opposition lawmaker and newspaper publisher has asked to switch sides and join the ruling party, according to a letter published on Monday in local media. Sith said in the letter that he had made the decision after seeing good policies under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“I would like to join my political life with the Cambodian People’s Party from the day I sign [this letter] with honesty and without threat or coercion,” he wrote in the letter.
Sok Eysan, a CPP spokesperson, said the party was open to accepting new members, but that he had yet to see Sith’s letter.
Previously, CNRP lawyer Choung Chou Ngy had said he too wanted to join the Candlelight Party and wanted to help draft better laws and monitor the government’s actions closely.