Dispersed: former CNRP commune chiefs take different political paths
Four years after the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) dissolved in 2017, its 500 commune leaders lost their jobs, some defected to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party ( PPC), some awaiting the re-establishment of their old parties, with others joining the newly created parties.
In the June 2017 communal elections, the CPP won 1,156 commune chief positions and 6,503 councilor seats while the CNRP won 489 commune chief positions and 5,007 councilor seats. The Khmer United National Party won a commune.
But after the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017 and its leader Kem Sokha was arrested on treason charges for allegedly colluding with a foreign country to overthrow the government through a color revolution, its communal seats were distributed to the CPP and small parties.
The CPP won 4,548 seats, the royalist Funcinpec won 239, the Khmer United National Party 201 seats, the Cambodian Nationality Party ten seats, the Cambodian Youth Party three seats and the Indigenous Peoples Democracy Party of Cambodia three seats.
Hai Pengleap, former Boeng Keng Kang commune chief in Phnom Penh, said that when he lost his job in 2017 after the CNRP was disbanded, he became a grocery seller but decided to join the CPP the year last.
“I joined the CPP last year because I didn’t want to wait for the reinstatement of the CNRP. I got a master’s degree in law. So I don’t want to be unemployed. I have to do something for the country,” Pengleap said.
Pengleap said he became a CPP commune councilor for Kamboul commune after his defection last year.
“I joined the ruling party because I want to work for society. We can’t wait any longer. I really want to help people, so I joined RPC,” he said.
Nop Bunhour, another former CNRP commune chief in Chamkar Mon district who joined the CPP in 2019, said the CPP was his best choice among other minor political parties.
“I decided to join RPC because it is my right. It means that I am working for the Cambodians and the interest of the country,” Bunhour said. “We hope this famous party will continue to develop the country.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said many former CNRP communal councilors defected to the CPP because they wanted to unite to develop the country.
“At least 10 or 20 people come to join the CPP almost every month,” Eysan said.
He added that many former CNRP members who joined the CPP live in the provinces of Svay Rieng, Tboung Khmum, Battambang and Kampong Cham, but have not been given posts as commune chiefs or councilors. common.
“The reason we allow them to join us is that we don’t want them to lose their political rights. So we don’t care about their past. We care about the future. We have to allow them to join us,” Eysan said.
Other former CNRP communal councilors are reluctant to join the CPP or other political parties because they still believed their party would be resurrected.
Former Tumnop Toek commune chief in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district, Nhoek Kimheng, said he was waiting for Sokha, who is facing a treason trial in Phnom Penh Municipal Court, to return to politics.
“After the dissolution of the CNRP. I started running my own business even though many people pushed me to join another political party. I told them no,” he said.
“I have no intention of joining any other political party, especially this year and next year’s communal elections,” Kimheng said.
He said former CNRP members should not form new political parties as they are not strong enough to challenge the ruling party.
Kimheng added that no political party could defeat the CPP except the one once led by Sokha.
He was skeptical that the newly formed political parties could beat the CPP in the communal elections.
Former Chhoeu Khmao commune chief for the CNRP in Kandal province, Phon Sophea, said he had not joined any political party until recently when he became a member of the new Candlelight party, which had been trained by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
“I joined this political party because no other opposition political party is strong enough to compete with the CPP. The Candlelight party is made up of former CNRP members. That’s why I believe in this party,” Sophea said.
He said he had lost hope that the CNRP would be revived and that only the Candlelight Party might be viable to challenge the CPP.
“We cannot wait for the resurrection of the CNRP. We must pursue our dream of making a new political party stronger. We cannot remain inactive,” Sophea said.
“I believe the Candlelight party will win seats in the local elections and the party leadership is preparing candidates to participate,” Sophea said.
He said some of his comrades joined other political parties.
“I don’t want to talk about it because joining another political party is their right but they should think about it and join us,” he said.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP MP who is now one of the founders of the opposition Cambodian Reform Party, said CRP membership is mostly made up of former CNRP members.
“They were former heads of towns or councilors of towns, districts and provinces. We have to accept them as members of the CRP,” Chanrath said.
He said the members of the CRP had wide experience, most of them being from the provinces of Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham, Tboung Khmum and Battambang.
Chanrath added that they decided to join the CRP because they believed in its leadership.