Well-known Candlelight Party commune councilor Kung Raiya announced he would join the CPP on Friday.
He is among the latest in a pattern of defecting Candlelight senior officials and members which began in June after the party was disqualified from participating in the July elections.
According to a video, published on government-aligned outlet Fresh News, Raiya sent a letter asking to join the CPP due to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s clear vision, leadership and policies which led the country to achieve peace, prosperity and development in all fields.
Hun Sen responded on Telegram: “On behalf of the Cambodian People’s Party, I would like to warmly welcome Kung Raiya to join the political life with the Cambodian People’s Party.”
In the past week, at least four other senior Candlelight officials and prominent supporters said they would join the ruling CPP, including Sarlong Det and Ly Chanvatey, leader of the pro-opposition social media group “I LOVE CAMBODIA HOT NEWS”. Youk Neang, former director and chairperson of the Phnom Penh Municipal Women’s Movement of the Opposition Party, also announced she would be joining the ruling party.
Some former opposition supporters have been awarded government positions after joining the ruling CPP, including while released from jail on bail, while other opposition activists have faced violent attacks in the past months.
Candlelight Party spokesperson Kimsour Phearith said the party has nothing to worry about regarding the increasing number of defections. He added that this is anyone’s right to choose political allegiances but some former Candlelight supporters surrendered to the ruling party for their own benefit.
“No, it does not affect the party. Whoever stays, they continue,” he said.
While in the Candlelight Party, Raiya was also a member of the party’s Board of Directors. He was even nominated by the Candlelight Party to run for parliament in Phnom Penh in the national elections, before the party was disqualified from participating in late May.
Raiya was formerly an outspoken critic of the ruling party. He was first imprisoned in 2015 while still a university student for a Facebook post calling for a “color revolution.” He was convicted on charges of incitement and eventually released in early 2017. His second arrest in July 2019 resulted in a four month prison stay, but on June 19th 2020 he was convicted for incitement again and sentenced to two years in prison which he avoided by seeking political asylum in Thailand.
As the US government warned the upcoming elections were considered “neither free nor fair”, UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk issued a statement on Friday urging the Cambodian government to “act swiftly to enable and protect a conducive environment for a free and fair general election.”
“I urge Cambodia’s leadership to change course now to enable a vibrant civil society, a space for open debate and respect for human rights,” Türk said.