Cambodia's former opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Monday publicly accused Mao Monyvann, a lawmaker in the party he co-founded, of attempting to stage an internal "coup" and divide the opposition at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The charge marked a serious escalation in rifts within the beleaguered Cambodia National Rescue Party, which is already under threat of dissolution from the government over accusations that its leaders engaged in a US-backed conspiracy to take down the government.
In a video clip posted to his Facebook page, Rainsy, claiming to be speaking in the name of opposition supporters, accused Monyvann of attempting to take over the CNRP while the party's current president, Kem Sokha, sits in jail on accusations of treason.
"He wants to be the leader instead of Kem Sokha, who is an honest person. This is an act of undignified betrayal which all Khmer children who have honor, who are outstanding, who are dignified, cannot accept," Rainsy declared in the video, filmed during a visit to Rome.
He did not explain what evidence led him to believe the lawmaker was trying to take over the party. However, the accusation followed a disagreement between Rainsy and CNRP leaders including Monyvann over the procedure to draw up a list of Senate candidates.
Rainsy fled Cambodia and went into exile in 2015 to avoid being jailed over an old defamation case. He has not returned to the country since, and in February he resigned from his role in the CNRP for fear the party might be dissolved if he, as a convicted criminal, continued to lead it.
In Monday’s video, he also called on members of the opposition party to flee the country and join him rather than capitulate to political intimidation. More than half of the CNRP’s lawmakers are already abroad, fearing arrest if the treason case is widened, while one CNRP lawmaker and at least 25 lower-level officials have reportedly defected to the CPP. Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared that he will rule the country for the next decade, and publicly appealed to CNRP officials at all levels to join the ruling party in order to keep their jobs when the CNRP is dissolved.
“Let others lure you however they want, let them attempt it, but please, all of you, don’t be soft, don’t believe [them] and don’t follow the traitors,” Rainsy declared, adding that he was certain that the government’s attempt to dissolve the CNRP would fail.
His video appeal comes as the Supreme Court is preparing to hear a case on the party’s dissolution, which was put on the table after the Interior Ministry filed a lawsuit in early October claiming the CNRP was violating the Law on Political Parties due to its leaders’ involvement in the supposed treasonous plot.
Monyvann declined to comment when reached by VOA Khmer on Tuesday. However, he posted a message on his own Facebook page on Monday night that appeared to refer to Rainsy’s accusations.
“I, Mao Monyvann, even if I have to die, I will not run away from the battlefields and I will not absolutely sell my wisdom!” he wrote. “The ones who smeared [others], insinuated, or echoed [the smears] will definitely be regretful if they are human beings with values.”
The lawmaker has clashed with Rainsy in the past, and in 2011 quit the opposition leader’s eponymous Sam Rainsy Party to join the Human Rights Party, which at the time was led by Kem Sokha. The two parties merged the following year to form the CNRP, bringing Monyvann back into Rainsy’s ambit.
In March, the government-aligned Fresh News website posted screenshots of WhatsApp messages Monyvann purportedly sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen, claiming Rainsy had spread a rumor that a Vietnamese general had cuckolded the premier and was the true father of his eldest son.
Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the ruling party, told VOA Khmer on Tuesday that there was no truth to the claim that Monyvann was a CPP plant or that the ruling party was seeking to stir up discord within the opposition.
“The Cambodian People’s Party doesn’t lack human resources, so there is no need to buy them out,” he said.
Asked about Rainsy’s contention that the opposition party would not be dissolved, Eysan said he would wait for the Supreme Court hearing on the matter, scheduled for November 16.
“It will only take 16 more days to know whether Sam Rainsy is right or wrong,” he said.