The Interior Ministry has authorized the establishment of a new opposition party founded by a former lawmaker of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party — as long as the new Cambodia Reform Party changes its motto so it’s not identical to that of the CNRP.
The ministry requested that Reform Party founders change the slogan “Rescue, Serve, Protect” seen in the party’s logo because it’s the same one used by the CNRP, which was dissolved by the Supreme Court in 2017, according to a letter from Interior Minister Sar Kheng dated Tuesday.
The ministry cited Article 11 of the Law on Political Parties, which says parties’ names and logos must be “clearly distinguished” from those of existing parties, and cannot be a “slight modification” of another party’s name. In addition, a party’s logo cannot be copied from national symbols or images representing religion, Angkor Wat temple or Cambodian kings.
Ou Chanrath, the ex-CNRP lawmaker who created the Reform Party, told VOD he didn’t see a problem with the “rescue” slogan, but party founders would discuss how to phrase a new motto to replace it nonetheless.
“This should not affect or cause any problems in regards to the motto, but the Ministry of Interior gave the reason that it is the motto of the party that was dissolved by the court verdict,” Chanrath said. “For us, we think that it should not be a problem.”
He said the word “rescue” could not be “eliminated” from the Khmer language, but the new party did not want to face problems so they’d change their slogan.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said the modern use of the word “rescue” by political parties was inappropriate, compared to how it was once used by the Kampuchea United Front for National Salvation, the group that overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979 with Vietnamese forces and would evolve into today’s ruling CPP.
“First, we created the Kampuchea United Front for National Salvation. That founding is right under the circumstances [of genocide],” Sopheak said. “Under the Pol Pot regime, [people] always said, ‘Oh god, is there any Theravada who will come to save us, because it is all death?’”
“The use of the word ‘national rescue’ is true to save lives. … That was correct in 1979,” he added. “Then, there was a political party. They took the motto of ‘Rescue, Serve, Protect,’ and used it as their own. They stole others’ words, the word ‘rescue,’ and it does not fit the circumstances of rescuing. Now, who do [they] save?”
Since the dissolution of the CNRP in November 2017, four political parties, including Chanrath’s Reform Party, have been created by former CNRP officials or their relatives.
They include the Khmer Will Party established by Kong Monika, the son of Kong Korm, once a confidant of CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy; the Cambodian National Love Party of Chiv Kata and Kang Kimhak; and Real Camerin’s Khmer Conservatism Party.
Of the 118 senior CNRP leaders who were stripped of their right to hold office following the CNRP’s dissolution, about a dozen, including Chanrath, Korm, Kata, Kimhak and Camerin, were later granted “political rehabilitation” after requesting the government reinstate their rights. Rainsy has called their actions an effective betrayal.
But in November last year, Chanrath told VOD that people should gather to create a new party based on the spirit of the CNRP, so that opposition supporters could compete in elections in 2022 and 2023.
“I don’t expect that the ruling party will soften its behavior to let the CNRP live again,” Chanrath said at the time. “Our people should change their mindset about participating in politics — [they] cannot just wait for one or two individuals.”