Sam Rainsy is no longer a member of the party he co-founded, but his image— holding hands with Kem Sokha, the country’s new opposition leader—is still on CNRP signs planted across the country.
And that’s not going to change, said Mu Sochua, the director of public affairs for the CNRP.
“We can put anyone on our signs,” she said, adding that Mr. Rainsy and the party remained inextricable. “He is our leader. What he is, is what we are.”
While many opposition supporters and officials expressed their shock and sadness over the weekend at the news of the longtime opposition leader’s resignation, most shared the sentiment that the CNRP would carry on fine without Mr. Rainsy at the helm.
“I cry, but I am not weak,” wrote a Facebook user named Sin Rozeth along with a selfie showing tears running down her face. She wrote that she was confident that Mr. Rainsy made the right decision.
“His decision has doubled my determination to go to the grassroots,” she added. “Tears fall today for victory tomorrow.”
Ms. Sochua, who was secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party before it merged with Mr. Sokha’s Human Rights Party to form the CNRP in 2012, said that about 100 members of the steering committee gathered at the CNRP’s Phnom Penh headquarters to hear Mr. Rainsy explain his decision via Skype.
“There was not a dry eye in the room,” she said, adding that Mr. Rainsy’s message was that he would continue to work with the opposition in whatever way possible from afar.
“Of course we are disappointed,” Ms. Sochua said. “But I really don’t believe that people will look somewhere else.”
While Mr. Rainsy has plenty of critics—for repeatedly fleeing the country when facing arrest, for focusing too much on personality politics rather than policy, for too often resorting to anti-Vietnamese rhetoric—his name rings out after 23 years as the opposition leader.
When he returned to Cambodia in 2013, after years in self-imposed exile and weeks before the national election, hundreds of thousands of his supporters filled the streets to greet him.
Rem Samoeun, 56, a longtime member of Mr. Rainsy’s previous party who is now head of the CNRP in Pursat City, said he was not worried about the impact of the opposition leader’s resignation on the party.
“Even without Sam Rainsy, we will reach our goal by following the party’s policy line to bring change in the future,” he said. “Khmer people already have Sam Rainsy in their mind to make change.”
Mr. Samoeun said that the CPP’s threat to pass a new law that could dissolve political parties led by a convicted criminal, which led to Mr. Rainsy’s resignation, was a desperate act that would only embolden the opposition.
“It is the final step by the CPP. They want to split us, but Khmer people already understand that issue, so the CNRP still grows stronger and stronger,” he said.
Tith Ty, who worked with Mr. Sokha before the merger, and is now deputy head of the CNRP in Siem Reap province’s Varin district, said that the only thing that could break the CNRP would be a split in its leadership.
“In my opinion, I think this will bring more support because villagers support the policies of the party,” Mr. Ty said. “If we are together in solidarity, we will still be popular. But if the party splits, we will lose popularity.”