Three former opposition CNRP youth members have defected to the ruling party, including a woman who previously presented the nightly news on party co-founder Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page and, according to Rainsy, had received refugee status after fleeing to Thailand to escape incitement and plotting charges.
The three political activists, Khean Vises, 32, Yu Chantheany, 27, and Sao Osaphea, 27, were initiated into the ruling party by Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng, a CPP central committee member, at a ceremony in the capital on Wednesday.
Chantheany previously presented nightly news broadcasts on Rainsy’s Facebook page, but was arrested in 2019 for incitement and plotting as Rainsy promised a return to Cambodia. She was later released on bail as Rainsy failed to even board his flight in Paris. Rainsy has been living in France amid a slew of court charges against him.
Rainsy said online in February 2020 that Chantheany was “in Thailand with refugee status granted by the UNHCR.”
Chantheany declined to comment this week. Vises and Osaphea could not be reached.
CNRP vice president Mu Sochua said all three defectors had lived in exile abroad before returning.
She said she believed they had returned to the country and joined the CPP due to factors related to their families’ livelihoods or threats from the ruling party.
“I believe that if they had a choice, they would not return to join the CPP. They would never run to those who wanted to arrest them,” Sochua said.
However, Sreng, the Phnom Penh governor, said on Thursday that the three had joined out of their own will simply because the ruling party was superior.
“In a multiparty democracy, people have the right to choose any political party to continue their political life when they see the superiority of one party over another,” Sreng said.
The CNRP, the country’s main opposition party, was outlawed in 2017 following major gains in that year’s local-level commune elections.
Social scientist Seng Sary said former CNRP members continued to face threats and pressure to defect.
“In previous election cycles, we saw that opposition party defectors to the ruling party received positions, rewards, money, wealth — but now the situation has changed; [there] is imprisonment, threats,” Sary said.
A free and fair election would be the best way to assess which party is superior or which has the most public support, he added.
Vises was a former member of a CNRP youth delegation, while Osaphea was a former member of the Prey Nob district permanent committee in Preah Sihanouk province.