Standing in the municipal court dock on Wednesday, Kem Sokha said he would never run away from the people no matter what difficulties he faced — an apparent dig at his CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy, who lives in exile in France.
Sokha continued that he would not be friends with those who “harmed the interests of the nation.”
Though Sokha did not name any specific person, the words echoed the ruling party’s repeated and easily identified criticisms against Rainsy.
Sokha, who is on trial for treason, was one half of an at-times fragile partnership behind the main opposition CNRP. Sokha’s Human Rights Party and Rainsy’s Sam Rainsy Party joined forces in 2012 under the CNRP umbrella, pushing the ruling CPP to near-defeat in the 2013 national election.
Four years later, however, Sokha was arrested and the CNRP dissolved by the Supreme Court.
His treason case has so far dragged on for five years, and a trial hearing Wednesday morning heard questioning over videos that have already been played and discussed in court.
But when defense lawyers began to question Sokha, inviting him to explain what the intentions behind his actions were, he made a loaded declaration.
“I declare here that I will not run away from the people. I also will not associate with bad people who harm the interests of the nation,” he said.
After the hearing, defense lawyer Chan Chen would not explain Sokha’s words, but noted that Sokha had made such a “political message” before.
Online, former supporters of the Sokha’s Human Rights Party and Sam Rainsy Party have already been at each other’s throats for each side purportedly imperiling the alliance.
The Sam Rainsy Party, renamed the Candlelight Party, is contesting the upcoming June 5 election, and has become the biggest current opposition party. For Sokha supporters, Candlelight’s activity — and Rainsy’s tacit support — has been seen as breaking away from the unity of the CNRP.
But ex-CNRP lawmaker and Rainsy ally Men Sothavrin said Sokha was the one who would be doing the ruling party a favor if he were signaling a split from Rainsy. Rainsy still considered Sokha as his political partner, Sothavrin said.
“All of us and president Sam Rainsy always demand the release of Kem Sokha,” Sothavrin said. “President Sam Rainsy will always be in alliance with president Kem Sokha.”
Earlier this month, Sokha met Prime Minister Hun Sen at the funeral of Hun Sen’s brother Hun Neng, reportedly talking for hours.
For political analyst Van Bunna, no matter who precipitates the split, a division would only help Hun Sen’s CPP.
“The political benefit goes to the ruling party. The strategy of the ruling party has been not wanting the factions of His Excellency Sam Rainsy and His Excellency Kem Sokha to get along, [because] the two sides could gather enough force to cause problems for the ruling CPP.”