Can Cambodia’s Decimated Political Opposition Survive a Leadership Struggle?

Can Cambodia’s Decimated Political Opposition Survive a Leadership Struggle?
Supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party hold a poster of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha during the last day of campaigning for the June 4 commune elections, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 2, 2017 (AP photo by Heng Sinith).

Factional divisions within the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP, came to the surface in December, when a party conference in Atlanta named exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy its acting president. The conference was boycotted and its outcome rejected by supporters of Kem Sokha, the CNRP’s erstwhile president who remains under house arrest in Cambodia pending trial on charges of treason. In an email interview with WPR, Astrid Norén-Nilsson, associate senior lecturer at the Center for East and South-East Asian Studies at Lund University, Sweden, discusses the origins of the CNRP leadership dispute, and the implications of the opposition’s internal divisions for Cambodian politics.

World Politics Review: How long has the dispute between Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha been simmering within the CNRP, and what caused it to spill into public view?

Astrid Norén-Nilsson: The CNRP was created in 2012 through the merger of the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, a move that at the time appeared surprising, not least considering the strong personalities of the respective party leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha. Given the personalist character of Cambodian politics, the sense that there was a “Sam Rainsy group” and a “Kem Sokha group” within the CNRP persisted throughout the party’s history. However, both sides managed the friction because Rainsy, Sokha and their supporters were acutely aware that their political fortunes hinged on maintaining unity.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.