In the last days of the recent election campaign in Cambodia, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha often showed up together, creating an image of a perfect pair that will be able to lead Cambodia. However, a look into the past show that the ambitions and the characters of the two are not what they appear to be.
Although Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are trying to create an image of a strategic alliance between two perfect counterparts in the Cambodian political arena, they are not able to conceal the contradiction, suspicion and looseness of a temporary coalition. Being together in the same alliance, but in fact Kem Sokha does not want Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia. Instead, he wants to have exclusive rights and gradually consolidate his power within Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). As for Sam Rainsy, he has always mistrusted Kem Sokha and thought that Kem Sokha could be a chessman in the hand of some forces who want to split and erase Sam Rainsy Party(SRP).
Earlier, in 1995, when Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity was stripped of by the National Assembly, Kem Sokha was the Chairman of National Assembly’s Human rights and Compliance Committee and he was the one to vote for the removal of Sam Rainsy, saying: “Up to 99% of members of the National Assembly share the idea”. Subsequently, in 2006, after Sam Rainsy’s return on February 10 to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen two days later, Kem Sokha aggressively criticized the renovation of SRP and accused Sam Rainsy as a reactionary. On March 22 the same year, Kem Sokha banned SRP leaders and its members to participate in discussions he organized. For Sam Rainsy’s part, he exposed Kem Sokha’s intention to leave the human rights center to form a party. Sam Rainsy blamed Kem Sokha as a “fake human right activist”. After the 2008 election, both Human Rights Party (HRP) and Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) accused Cambodia People Party (CPP) of “cheating” and asked international leaders and organizations to put pressure on Hun Sen. However, a conflict arose between the two parties when Kem Sokha thought that HRP was fooled by Sam Rainsy. Kem Sokha then met the CPP to propose a participation in the government, but failed. Too many of “stains” in the relationship of the two parties explain why they will never become a perfect pair in the political arena.
At present, despite the more-than-expected achievements of CNRP in the recent election, there is an internal separation and split between Sam Rainsy’s side and Kem Sokha’s. The main reason is that the two groups could not meet each other’s interest in the number of the seats in the National Assembly. Sam Rainsy’s team wanted to take more since in the previous election, SRP won 29 seats while HRP got only three. Before coming back to Cambodia while still living in exile in France, Sam Rainsy promised to share 50/50. However, back to the country, under the pressure of the members of SRP, Sam Rainsy demanded for more. The public is paying attention on how Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha will share the seats they have won and whether Sam Rainsy and SRP team accept the 50/50 proportion.
Besides, the fund used for CNRP’s operation is also a cause of the conflict. When Sam Rainsy lived in exile, Kem Sokha was solely in charge of all the funds from overseas sponsorship and support for CNRP. Sam Rainsy’s group suspects that Kem Sokha and his team have embezzled the fund and demanded to make the financial issue clear. Kem Sokha’s team, in contrary, is dissatisfied as the salary of the “National Rescue” (CNRP’s mouthpiece) is divided into two levels: each of Sam Rainsy’s followers receives US$250 per month while each of Kem Sokha’s, just US$150.
Currently, CNRP is also in the middle of the conflict when it comes to prolonging the time to form the National Assembly and the Government. Kem Sokha and HRP want to quickly negotiate with CPP to form the National Assembly. However, Sam Rainsy, now not eligible to be a voter or a candidate to the National Assembly, wants to prolong the formation until October 1, 2013. Probably, Sam Rainsy worries that the early formation of the National Assembly and the Government will not guarantee him a position higher that of Kem Sokha (according to the law, after October 1, 2013, the National Election Committee of Cambodia – NEC will conduct the registration of new 2013 voters. By then, Sam Rainsy will be eligible to become a voter and CNRP will make internal changes to recommend him as a member of the parliament). In fact, although there is a merger between HRP and SRP but the organizational structures and the positions are separated. It shows the conflict, distrust between the two. Both Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha have an ambition to become the next Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Currently, it is widely circulated that several CNRP members want to ostracise Kem Sokha as they believe that he was dominated and implanted to undermine CNRP from the inside. Kem Sokha’s supporters state that the rumor was fabricated by Sam Rainsy’s team to remove Kem Sokha.
*Seng Sovannarith is a Cambodian reseacher at The University of Social Sciences and Humanities – Vietnam.