Seven newly appointed Cambodian ambassadors have been officially charged with leading membership drives for the ruling CPP in the countries to which they have been assigned, a party spokesman said Friday.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said that the seven would take on the dual roles as a matter of efficiency and would have no problems separating state duties from party politicking.
“The ambassadors will do foreign policy work for the government, and as they are members of the party, they can also be the director of the CPP committee in each country,” Mr. Eysan said.
“When they have time off from their embassy work, they can work for the party. This way, we don’t have to waste more people.”
An official circular dated Thursday and signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the acting CPP president, says that Koy Kuong, the new ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, would also serve as director of the newly established CPP committee in Australia and New Zealand.
Mr. Eysan said that the six other new ambassadors—to the U.S., Kuwait, Indonesia, Japan, Belgium and India—would take on the same role.
“When the director arrives, he can help to explain the political situation in Cambodia and find more members overseas to strengthen the party, increase support and explain how the party has developed the country,” he said.
The spokesman refrained from naming the opposition CNRP, which enjoys widespread support among the Cambodian diaspora, but said the CPP was widening its reach to give overseas Cambodians political options.
“If they see that party A activists are inappropriate, they can change their interest and support party B,” he said.
In a May 29 letter, the CPP’s steering committee outlined the party’s plan to expand its outreach overseas. Hun Manet, the prime minister’s eldest son who holds a number of high-level military positions, is overseeing the push, which involves creating working groups to increase CPP support abroad.
One of the stated aims of the overseas branches is to counteract “negative propaganda, not only from the CNRP, but also from other parties that say things that are not true,” according to the May letter.
Before the 2013 national election, the CNRP sent members on international tours to court donations and support. Now, after failing to deliver on the “change” it promised, support from overseas appears to be wavering, at least in some quarters.
Kalyan Ky, 29, a dual citizen of Cambodia and Australia who has served as an adviser to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Liberal government and is now working to establish the Cambodia-Australia Chamber of Commerce, said she has fielded numerous complaints from Cambodians living in Australia.
“The Cambodian people here work hard for their money and the CNRP comes and exploits them,” she said. “One woman donated $5,000 because they promised a new government, now she has nothing. The people are angry with the CNRP.”
Ms. Ky, who claims to have no affiliation with any Cambodian political party, said she visited Phnom Penh in April to pass the grievances on to Mr. Kuong and Lieutenant General Manet.
“I told them that we need to protect our people in Australia from being exploited,” she said. “[The new CPP committee] is an extension of the complaints that people have been making, asking for the government to be more accountable to its people living overseas.”
Ms. Ky said that the Australian Labor Party is “in cahoots with the CNRP” and assisted in their fund-raising, a practice that she said was immoral and would not be replicated when the CPP makes its push into Australia.
“The CPP won’t be fund-raising, I will make sure of that,” she said.
More than 11,000 Cambodians live in Victoria, where Hong Lim, a 65-year-old dual citizen of Cambodia and Australia, is a member of state parliament. Another 17,000 or so Cambodians are scattered across the country, according to Australian government figures.
Contacted Friday, Mr. Lim said Phnom Penh’s decision to allow its ambassadors to also serve as CPP campaigners was “outrageous,” but noted that he was yet to see a neutral ambassador from Cambodia.
“It has always been CPP party people who serve as ambassador; it won’t be very different,” he said.
Mr. Lim confirmed that he had been involved in fundraising for the CNRP but rebuked suggestions that supporters had been exploited.
He did, however, acknowledge the discontent within the Cambodian community in Australia following CNRP President Sam Rainsy’s reconciliation with his longtime political adversary, Mr. Hun Sen.
“There is still some goodwill among them but the people are very, very disappointed with this so-called ‘culture of dialogue,’” he said. “It betrays the wishes of the people.”
Son Chhay, a senior opposition lawmaker who also holds Cambodian and Australian citizenship, said that handing the dual roles to Mr. Kuong and the other ambassadors was outright “illegal.”
“An ambassador, appointed by His Majesty the King, should be representing Cambodia, not a party,” he said. “This is an illegal act.”
Mr. Chhay suggested that Cambodians in Australia would weigh their “lost” CNRP donations against any grievances they had with the CPP, and that Mr. Kuong would struggle to sway allegiances.
“The Cambodian people in Australia stay in touch with the situation in the country,” he said. “If the CPP continues to take people’s land and run the country through nepotism and corruption, I doubt that anything Koy Kuong says or does will make a difference.”