Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha’s Divorce of Necessity in Cambodia

The split between the country’s two most prominent opposition leaders has been five years in the making.

As with many couples, the political divorce between Cambodia’s opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha has been a long, drawn-out process. Many news reports would have it that Sokha this week formally announced their separation. “Sam Rainsy and I are done. I would like to inform you that this is true. It’s no longer ‘Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha as one’,” he reportedly told a courtroom on June 15, the audio of which was conveniently published by the pro-government Fresh News. Sokha was speaking during his ongoing trial for treason, which has dragged on since 2017. Rainsy and Sokha formed the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2012 but it was forcibly dissolved five years later on spurious charges of plotting a U.S.-backed coup.

What was Sokha supposed to say? Since 2017, he has publicly distanced himself on several occasions from Rainsy’s more egregious comments. As Sokha said earlier this month, his court case has become more about his relationship with Rainsy than the allegations he committed treason. Did anyone think that Sokha would show up at his trial and profess undying loyalty to a political ally who has numerous (trumped-up) criminal convictions to his name? Confessing loyalty to Rainsy would be foolhardy. For his part, Rainsy reckons it’s something of a ploy. “We must look at the circumstance. Is he speaking his mind or is he being pressured?” he told Radio Free Asia this week. “Kem Sokha is a hostage of [Prime Minister] Hun Sen. He can’t say what he wants. Hun Sen has threatened Kem Sokha that he will send him back to prison.”

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