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Opposition Calls on Members To Curb Public Insults of Ruling Party

Opposition leader of Cambodia National Rescue Party Sam Rainsy, center, delivers a speech next to his Deputy President Kem Sokha, right, during a gathering to mark Human Rights Day, in front of National Assembly, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

This week’s message underscores the sensitive nature of Cambodian politics, where insults are taken very personally and defamation is a criminal offense.

The leadership of Cambodia’s opposition party is calling on supporters, activists and members of the party to curb insults to the ruling party.

In a letter released Wednesday, Kem Sokha, acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, called on the opposition to “maintain dignity and high morale by not using insults and insulting images for expressing opinions or criticism via the media, so that national reconciliation and unity will be found.”

Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy issued a similar plea in December. Kem Sokha himself was in 2015 removed from a leadership position in the National Assembly, after a series of critical statements of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. This week’s message underscores the sensitive nature of Cambodian politics, where insults are taken very personally and defamation is a criminal offense.

The Rescue Party’s values, Kem Sokha wrote, include “the enhancement, respect, and protection of human dignity.” Peace and stability are its goals, along with national unity and development. The Rescue Party “has always thoroughly carried out the principles of peace, non-violence, morality, good behavior, gratefulness.”

The letter comes following a National Assembly session in which Kem Sokha and Prime Minister Hun Sen engaged in four minutes of public dialogue. Hun Sen has publicly chastised Kem Sokha in the past for his criticism of the ruling party.

Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the Cambodian People’s Party, told VOA Khmer the letter signaled a “new political stance” for the opposition and appears aimed at normalizing political dialogue.

“Their new stance is very welcome,” he said. “Had we seen this stance from the beginning, the rise of political heat would not have happened and there would not have been instability toward the culture of dialogue.” However, he added, “we don’t believe in theory; we will wait to see it in practice.” He declined to say whether the new environment could help secure the release of opposition activists still in detention.

Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said the apparent new stance was a good idea. The opposition should turn away from insults, but it should not stop being critical of government policies, he said.

The letter also comes as Hun Sen and the CPP are working toward better public relations, including through social media. Hun Sen has announced an app to help people follow his daily activities, which he promoted via his Facebook page recently.

Yem Ponhearith, a Rescue Party spokesman, said Kem Sokha’s recent letter was not a response to the CPP’s new strategy, but to the “general situation” between the parties—including insults and insulting images promulgated on Facebook. The Rescue Party will continue to examine and criticize government policies in a constructive manner, he added.