Taking Reins From Rainsy, Kem Sokha Canvases Australia

CNRP President Kem Sokha courted supporters at events in Melbourne on Thursday, continuing a tour of Australia and New Zealand that marks his first fundraising trip as party president in a role previously filled by former party President Sam Rainsy.

Mr. Sokha’s stopover in the coastal city of Melbourne followed visits last week to Bangkok, where he spoke to several European ambassadors; Wellington, the New Zealand capital, where he met with parliamentarians; and Canberra, Australia, where he met with foreign affairs officials.

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CNRP President Kem Sokha, right, speaks with New Zealand parliamentarians in Wellington, New Zealand earlier this week, in a photograph posted to Mr. Sokha’s Facebook page.

Those official visits, not fundraising, were the focus of Mr. Sokha’s trip, according to Prince Sisowath Thomico, a prominent party official.

“We got the feeling that we have more support from Australia,” he said. “I think they are more involved than they used to be.”

Hong Lim, a Cambodia-born Labor Party lawmaker based in Melbourne, who was barred from Cambodia last year after calling Prime Minister Hun Sen a “beast,” said Australia’s Cambodian community was optimistic about, but also wary of, both Mr. Sokha and the CNRP.

“There’s a mood of, ‘We don’t have much alternative, so let’s give Kem Sokha a chance,’” he said before attending a gala dinner on Thursday where Mr. Sokha was slated to speak.

Supporters admire Mr. Sokha’s persistence in the face of a slew of legal challenges last year, while detractors see him as too cozy with the prime minister and lacking experience in governing, Mr. Lim said.

“He’s walking a tightrope,” he said, citing government pressure on the party. “I know he’s desperately seeking all of the resources he can muster.”

The trip also comes after the passage of amendments to the Law on Political Parties that bar parties from raising funds from foreign donors or companies.

Mr. Rainsy said the party was complying with the law by only soliciting donations from Cambodian or dual-Cambodian citizens, in a move that both Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak and CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said earlier this month met the requirements of the law.

Mr. Rainsy downplayed the effects of his absence on fundraising efforts.

“People are constantly giving to the CNRP to support a cause regardless of its leaders as individuals,” he wrote in an email on Tuesday.

Prince Thomico also disputed the widely held opinion that Mr. Rainsy was better at opening the wallets of supporters.

“I think it was a misunderstanding,” he said. “Lately, since 2013, the Kem Sokha people have been more efficient in raising money.”

Chea Youhorn, head of the Cambodian Association of Victoria, Australia’s most densely populated state, predicted that Mr. Sokha would raise fewer funds for the June 4 commune election than he would for the higher-profile national elections, scheduled for next year.

Old factional rivalries between local supporters of Mr. Sokha and Mr. Rainsy had largely been put aside in recent years, Mr. Youhorn said.

“Now everyone knows what their policy is,” he said. “Everything is OK.”

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