Opposition replaces Sam Rainsy 

Sam Rainsy’s (left) personal rivalry with Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) was apparently derailing party strategy. Source: Wikimedia

Cambodia’s main opposition party has accepted the resignation of its leader Sam Rainsy and named his deputy, Kem Sokha, acting boss until a permanent replacement can be selected.

Sam Rainsy, who has been in self-imposed exile since 2015, resigned his membership of the Cambodia National Rescue Party after the authorities said they would to change electoral law so that political parties could be disbanded if their leaders had criminal convictions. He described the piece of legislation as “tailor-made” for him.

In October the government ordered immigration officials to prevent his return, from which point he was officially exiled.

Sam Rainsy is in Paris to avoid a two-year prison term on a defamation conviction he had thought was covered by a pardon. Several other legal cases against him are pending. He claims Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party use bogus charges to weaken their opponents, using obedient courts. Kem Sokha has also been targeted for prosecution.

Cambodia will hold municipal elections this June and a general election in 2018. The CNRP hopes to reinforce its gains in the 2013 general election. Hun Sen says he wants to stay in power, after more than 30 years in the top job.

The pro-democratic CNRP is the main competitor for the CPP, which has ruled the country since 1979. Hun Sen has been prime minister since 1985.

“The CNRP knows itself, where it has come from and what it must do,” Kem Sokha posted on Facebook. He has already been the acting leader because Sam Rainsy lives in exile. “The resignation of Sam Rainsy from the party presidency and membership came after discussion with the leaders of the party, and he did so for the sake of the party, the nation and with great honour,” Kem Sokha posted.

Sam Rainsy had been accused of becoming increasingly obsessed with his personal competition with Hun Sen, his long-time rival since the 1990s, at the expense of the party. There had been speculation that the party, nominally united under Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha’s shared leadership, had become divided since its electoral gains in 2013.

Hun Sen’s government will probably interpret Sam Rainsy’s resignation as evidence that its campaign of intimidation and repression has been successful at a crucial point in the election cycle.