Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday continued his efforts to undermine support for the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) by claiming that division and infighting is rife within the opposition party.
During a speech at the inauguration of a pagoda in Kompong Chhnang province’s Rolea Ba’ier district, Mr. Hun Sen repeated claims that the CNRP took so long to register—waiting until a few days before the cutoff to do so—because they were jostling over lawmaker positions for the July 28 national elections.
“Previously, they threatened not to participate in the elections, but now they will. So congratulations,” he told the crowd.
Mr. Hun Sen went on to say that CNRP vice president Kem Sokha had signed off on the candidates without the approval of self-exiled party president Sam Rainsy, whose name was not among the CNRP’s parliamentary contenders.
“It is completely right that you [Mr. Sokha] decided to register the list without waiting for any approval from the president [Mr. Rainsy]. Now, all of the power is in the acting president’s hands,” he said.
Mr. Sokha, who previously said that the CNRP was delaying its registration in order to best position their candidates against those of the CPP, on Sunday denied claims of rupture within the opposition and said that he and Mr. Rainsy had agreed on the candidacy of each party member that will be running under the CNRP banner.
“If there was any disagreement from president Sam Rainsy, how could we register the list? Mr. Rainsy and I came to a consensus on the issue,” said Mr. Sokha.
According to a letter obtained Sunday and signed by Mr. Rainsy on April 20, Mr. Rainsy delegated his authority to sign off on party decisions to acting president Mr. Sokha in the run-up to the national elections.
Mr. Rainsy spent the past week in Washington D.C., and remains in self-imposed exile to avoid an 11-year prison sentence for convictions including incitement and disinformation, which Mr. Rainsy says are politically motivated.
Mr. Rainsy is unable to run for election himself as he was removed from the voter list in October because the National Election Committee (NEC) said his convictions rendered him ineligible.
Mr. Sokha said that if the CNRP were to win the election, a political solution could then be found to allow Mr. Rainsy to become the prime minister despite not holding a seat in the National Assembly as is required under the Constitution.
“The CNRP still supports [Mr. Rainsy] as the candidate for prime minister,” Mr. Sokha said.
During his speech on Saturday, Mr. Hun Sen listed a number of specific alleged disputes within the CNRP that he said he learned about through spies within the opposition party.
“In Phnom Penh, the eighth candidate had to withdraw because he was not allowed to run. In Siem Reap, there was a heated dispute that almost led to violence,” Mr. Hun Sen said, going on to mention similar cases of infighting in Kompong Speu, Kandal, Kompong Thom and Banteay Meanchey provinces.
Mr. Hun Sen also refuted comments from Mr. Sokha last week that the prime minister is getting bad information from his “spies,” who are simply making up stories in order to get paid.
“These are all hot issues, don’t expect Hun Sen to be so stupid that he gets cheated for money,” he said.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Sunday that the government’s election body is reviewing the CNRP’s list of candidates and would inform them today of any corrections or changes that need to be made.