Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha on Saturday brushed off protests from a group of students demanding he respond to claims that he had a series of extramarital affairs, telling CNRP faithful to prepare for next year’s commune elections.
Speaking at the CNRP’s second biennial convention since its creation as a unified opposition in July 2012—less than a month after its two constituent parties lost the last commune elections—Mr. Sokha said the result of next year’s vote was all-important.
“Most importantly, the CNRP is focused on preparing itself for the elections. The grassroots-level election in 2017 is the bridge for the CNRP to reach victory in the national election in 2018, and to lead Cambodia in the near future,” Mr. Sokha said.
The commune elections, scheduled for July 2017, will be the first popular elections since the disputed 2013 national election, the first in Cambodia’s modern history in which the ruling party faced a united opposition.
Mr. Sokha said CNRP members had to be prepared for interference from the ruling party as elections near.
“Please remember, our competitor knows that most of Cambodia has turned to support the CNRP, and so they will not let us win easily, and they will not provide [us] the opportunity to work freely,” he said.
“I also appeal to all political competitors to compete with equality and dignity, avoiding violence and taking state power to press competitors.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said Mr. Sokha had nothing to fear, and that the new National Election Committee (NEC) would ensure elections run smoothly.
“Nobody will press them, but in the case that a few cases happen due to a small number of [ruling party] members, they have the right to file a complaint to the NEC…and this body will put in place fines,” he said.
Outside Saturday’s convention in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district, a group of students who have been following Mr. Sokha to events over the past month continued to protest his refusal to respond to their questions.
The students demanded he clarify whether it is his voice in dozens of leaked telephone calls allegedly between him and mistresses, or whether he wishes to claim it is not. The CNRP has adopted a policy of “don’t answer, don’t respond and don’t argue” in response to the claims.
A brief scuffle between the students and some CNRP supporters broke out on the perimeter of the convention on Saturday, but it was quickly managed by police.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, in exile to avoid arrest over a defamation conviction, appeared at the convention via Skype.
“We will re-organize agriculture to raise the standard of living of farmers to be better-off like those in neighboring countries. Within this objective, we will distribute land collected by the cancellation of land concessions to general farmers,” Mr. Rainsy said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen last year accused Mr. Rainsy of seeking class warfare through such a policy, but Mr. Rainsy said redistribution would only occur with an independent tribunal established to hear cases of alleged land-grabbing under the CPP government.