Kem Sokha: Not Running Away from the People is the Best Option

Kem Sokha (C), former leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), speaks to the media at his home before going to Phnom Penh Municipal Court for the resumption of his trial on treason charges in Phnom Penh on January 19, 2022. Photo from AFP

The former opposition leader appears to have doubled down on his decision to publicly distance himself from his former CNRP allies, seemingly calling out Sam Rainsy for fleeing Cambodia

PHNOM PENH--Kem Sokha, the former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in an apparent reference to his former colleagues, said that he did not run away from the people and has stayed to deal with Cambodian politics.

“With the spirit of love and the desire to help the country and the people to truly prosper, as a leader, although my possibilities and freedom are still limited, I still understand that standing in the motherland and keeping close ties with the people without running away from them is the best option,” Sokha said in a post to his official Facebook page on Feb. 20, 2022.

This comes months after Sokha publicly distanced himself from Sam Rainsy, his former political ally who has been living in exile in France after being threatened with arrest by the government.

But while a number of CNRP leaders and activists were forced to flee the country in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2017 decision to dissolve the former opposition party and charge its leaders with treason, Sokha said that his decision to stay highlights his commitment to the Cambodian people.

He appeared to be critical of Rainsy, calling out those who “can only shout loud from a distance,” in an apparent reference to Rainsy’s numerous social media campaigns and op-eds critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling party written from France.

“By taking action without a clear goal, hitting the drums from a distance to create an event to push people to suffer instead,” he said in what appears to be criticism of Rainsy’s attempts to retain a position within Cambodian politics from France.

Sokha then went on to say that he maintains good relationships with other countries, noting that he has been visited by numerous ambassadors and representatives from countries that have traditionally supported the push for democratization in Cambodia. He added that he retains the support of the Cambodian people who, according to Sokha, appreciate his firm but non-violent position.

From Feb. 18 to Feb. 20, Sokha and has retinue have visited local people across Kratie, Prey Veng, Stung Treng and Tbong Khmum provinces, as well as in Phnom Penh, seemingly in an attempt to drum up support, despite the lingering uncertainty as to whether Sokha will be allowed to participate in the upcoming June 2022 commune elections or the 2023 national elections.

After being accused of conspiring with foreign powers to overthrow Hun Sen in 2017, Sokha has been on trial for almost five years, but speculation is rife as to whether the former opposition leader has made some sort of deal with the ruling party to have his political rights restored.

Sokha’s legal team have repeatedly called for the government to drop or expedite the trial, which currently proceeds with just one half-day hearing in court each week, but lately the defense has raised the issue of Sokha’s right to participate in the upcoming elections.

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