A former Candlelight Party Member, who joined the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in June, fled Cambodia earlier this month due to fear and security concerns after he decided to leave the ruling party.
Kung Raiya left Cambodia on July 9 and said he is applying for UNHCR’s refugee status for political asylum. On Tuesday, he resigned from the CPP and from his position as advisor of the Education Ministry, which he received on June 19 after defecting to the CPP last month.
“I was defeated by the Cambodian People’s Party due to my personal security concerns,” he told CamboJA via Signal from abroad.
Hun Sen has threatened to arrest the Candlelight party’s members and activists who decide to protest against the Candlelight Party’s disqualification.
Raiya said he was particularly concerned about his safety ever since Prime Minister Hun Sen posted, via Telegram on May 15, images and video of a private Candlelight Party Telegram group chat. The pictures showed a discussion about whether they should protest the NEC’s decision to disqualify the Candlelight Party from the July 23 elections. Raiya’s name, along with others, was visible.
When Raiya joined the ruling CPP, he said its working group always pushed him to release video clips attacking opposition party leaders, but he refused.
“I can’t force myself to do work that I am not satisfied with, so I decided to leave the Cambodian People’s Party,” Raiya said.
In Raiya’s resignation letter addressed to CPP Phnom Penh party chief Khoung Sreng and posted on Raiya’s Facebook account, it states “I resign as a member of Cambodian People’s Party in Phnom Penh because my personnel affairs cannot fulfill the duties of the party anymore.”
As for Raiya’s role as advisor to the Education Ministry, “Since I was appointed the ministry’s advisor, I have never gone to work or received a salary because I have no work to do and I was just sitting to get a salary,” he said.
Four Candlelight Party officials were arrested in the last week for allegedly inciting people to spoil their ballots on election day. Earlier this month another Candlelight activist fled Cambodia due to alleged political persecution. Thol Samnang, 34, was arrested by Thai authorities, according to Human Rights Watch. A Cambodian National Police official said he was arrested due to his political activism.
Phnom Penh governor and Phnom Penh CPP party chief Khuong Sreng said that it is the right of citizens to affiliate with political parties in the Kingdom.
“It is not unusual in a multiple-party democracy for people to leave one party for another,” he said.
When asked about Raiya’s claim that CPP members asked him to publish video clips that attack opposition party leaders, he said: “I have never heard of someone asking him to do that.”
Education Ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha declined to comment on this case.
Raiya was previously an outspoken critic of the Cambodian government. He was convicted for incitement when he was a university student in 2015 after he called for a “color revolution” on Facebook. He was released from prison in 2017, but was later convicted for the incitement in 2020. He avoided his two year prison sentence by fleeing to Thailand.
Other Candlelight officials and supporters have also said they would be joining the ruling CPP in the last several months, including Sarlong Det, Ly Chanvatey and Youk Neang.
Pro-government media reports this year have claimed that more than 6,000 Candlelight members have left the party, according to an analysis by the online database Kamnotra.
Candlelight spokesperson Kimsour Phearith said that Raiya was no longer a member of Candlelight because he resigned from the party on June 16.
“I don’t know [why Raiya left the CPP], it is his right because he had already left the Candlelight,” he said.
He said that some Candlelight Party members and activists have decided to defect to the CPP either because they had received threats or because they wanted to gain a position in the government.
Ruling CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said “there is no coercion and intimidation” for people to join the CPP.
“I think he is an opportunist person because he tried to get away from problems, he defected and now he has left, so this person cannot be trusted,” Eysan said.
Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division Phil Robertson said in an email that Kung Raiya fleeing Cambodia “shows that many of these Candlelight Party ‘defections’ to the CPP are coerced, and come only after a massive campaign of harassment and pressure by the authorities against the CLP party leader or activist.”
Additional reporting by Leila Goldstein.