Mam Sonando Throws His Weight Behind Opposition Party

The Association of Democrats (AoD), an NGO founded by independent radio station owner Mam Sonando, has officially thrown its weight behind the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) as it seeks to overcome the ruling CPP in the upcoming national election, officials said Sunday.

Mr. Sonando announced the decision to formally back the CNRP on Saturday morning as the AoD—which educates rural communities about their human and voting rights—celebrated the third anniversary of its founding at the Sambok Khmum Beehive Radio station in Meanchey district’s Boeng Tompun commune.

“I have met with all of our attended members and discussed whether we should support a particular party—and all of them expressed their intention to vote for the CNRP,” he told a press conference following the meeting.

The AoD and its founder were accused last year by the government of stoking a secessionist movement in Kratie province—a charge that saw Mr. Sonando jailed in Prey Sar prison. However, despite being openly critical of the ruling party, this is the first time that either the group or Mr. Sonando has explicitly declared a party allegiance.

In fact, Mr. Sonando has in the past criticized the opposition SRP and Human Rights Party, which merged last year to become the CNRP. And as recently as May,

he voiced criticism of the new party’s inability to provide effective democratic opposition.

“I offer my support to the Cambodia National Rescue Party in line with my members’ joint decision to vote for this party,” Mr. Sonando said, insisting that he was not involved in party political campaigning.

“Just because I support one party over another does not mean that I have joined the political scene—I will remain as the independent owner of my radio station and the AoD regard- less of which party wins,” he said.

Mr. Sonando explained his and his organization’s decision as a patriotic duty, and he urged Cambodians to vote with him to curb the power of the CPP, if not bring its protracted reign to an end. “I appeal to all people

to support [the CNRP] so that we can reduce the power of the ruling party, stop human rights abuses and end evictions that are a result of so many land concessions being given to Vietnamese companies,” he said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan on Sunday dismissed the news and said that though he may just have declared it, Mr. Sonando had become a member of the opposition a long time ago.

“Announcing his support for the [CNRP] is not strange, I see it more as a confession after having hid his true face for so long,” he said, adding that Mr. Sonando had long been anti-government and used his NGO and radio station to dupe people into supporting the opposition.

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