Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Sunday that the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers will in the coming days be ordered to fall in line with the party leadership and cease attacking the ruling CPP on issues concerning the border with Vietnam.
After Prime Minister Hun Sen last month reacted angrily to a strident CNRP campaign blaming the government for ceding land to Vietnam, Mr. Rainsy pledged to end the offensive and work with the CPP behind closed doors.
Yet a number of lawmakers have continued their attacks, and on Saturday Mr. Rainsy used his Facebook page to ask for a new approach that does not involve “accusing any individual or any political party of any wrongdoing.”
On Sunday, the opposition leader returned to Cambodia from a trip to Australia and New Zealand, and said the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers would be called to a meeting this week and instructed to stop attacking the CPP over the border.
“We will meet with all our National Assembly members in the next few days and define a common position, and I am sure that everybody will follow. It has just been a problem of coordination,” Mr. Rainsy said.
He said that attacks on the CPP over the border issue had only continued because both he and deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha had been out of the country since making the pledge.
“It is a matter of party discipline, and all members, especially lawmakers, must follow. But there will be no censorship; it will be a matter of convincing people,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“It is also a matter of strategy, and of what the CNRP is going to prioritize, because there are many other pressing problems,” he added. “If you concentrate on only one issue, you can tend to neglect other pressing issues.”
Upon his return from Australia and New Zealand last week, Mr. Sokha told reporters he was uninterested in discussing border incursions, saying the issue would never be solved under the CPP.
“I think the solution is that the CNRP wins the election, and when we run the country we can accordingly solve the national issues,” Mr. Sokha said. “Now we are just accompanying [the CPP], and we cannot do anything.”
CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An, who is presently in the U.S. and has been the most provocative of the legislators—accusing ministers of using the wrong border maps and lying—said that he would heed the order.
“When there are instructions, we will implement them, because they are the leaders of the party, and inside the party there is discipline,” Mr. Sam An said. “The party won’t lose its popularity, as the party has its strategies.”
“The party has its reasons about what points we should raise in what kind of circumstance, and what points we should not raise in other circumstances,” he said.
Yet other senior lawmakers appear less willing to give up the issue entirely. On Saturday, two issued a public letter demanding that Var Kimhong, the minister in charge of border affairs, answer questions about an alleged border incursion in Svay Rieng province’s Rumduol district.
The letter, on parliamentary letterhead, says that villagers had long farmed a 30-hectare plot in the area, until a group of Vietnamese people arrived recently and claimed that the land falls inside Vietnamese territory.
CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith, who heads the opposition’s disciplinary committee and was one of the signatories to the letter, said Sunday he believed that demanding that a minister answer questions does not constitute an attack.
“In our capacity as lawmakers, we wrote a letter to the government to resolve whether the people own [the land],” Mr. Chanrith said. “It is not ‘poking their waist’ or criticism, but something we have to do as lawmakers to protect people.”
“What Kem Sokha has said is that he does not want us to pay attention to only one issue, and that we have to prepare for the elections. It does not mean that if there are border issues we have to stay quiet while people suffer.”
In the wake of Mr. Rainsy’s promises to end attacks on the CPP over the border, the CPP itself last week issued an order instructing its officials to collect “petitions galore” in support of its border work for public dissemination.
The order, leaked on Friday, tells CPP officials to collect messages of support from “civil servants, armed forces, teachers, monks, vendors, workers, farmers, students, social organizations, etc.” for broadcast on Facebook and TV.
Mr. Rainsy said that the opposition party was nevertheless now committed to shifting its focus away from the Vietnamese border and toward youth unemployment in Cambodia, which he said the CNRP has neglected.
“There are problems for migrant workers…and this comes from the internal situation in Cambodia: the lack of job creation, the problem of decent salaries and the problems of low agricultural product prices,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“People are leaving the country by the hundreds of thousands, and we have to address this situation,” he said.