Formerly outspoken opposition activist Yim Sinorn joined the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on Friday, several weeks after being released on bail from pre-trial detention for critical Facebook posts last month.
“Protecting the peace and defending any kind of act that wants to destroy the peace is my duty and Cambodian,” Sinorn wrote on his wife’s Facebook page Friday. “If Samdach [Prime Minister Hun Sen] gives me a chance and allows me to join the livelihood with the CPP to serve the people and the country under peace.”
Sinorn wanted to see Cambodia have “a strong democratic system” and did not want to see a “fake democratic political group” to lead Cambodia.
Government-aligned outlet FreshNews reported soon after Sinorn’s post that Hun Sen had welcomed Sinorn to join the CPP and expressed his hope that the former opposition activist would become a valuable resource to the ruling party. In the past months, environmental activists, opposition politicians and other critical voices had publicly announced their commitment to serve the ruling party.
Within a week of being arrested on March 22, Sinorn made a public apology to Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni, published on Fresh News.
“I really regret what I have written on my Facebook on March 21, 2023 without any clear consideration that causes the misunderstanding from people in Cambodia and people abroad ” Sinorn said in his apology.
Sinorn’s wife also wrote a March 24 Facebook post asking Hun Sen to forgive Sinorn.
Sinorn was released on March 28 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court
Sinorn added in his Friday Facebook message that he had been involved in opposition groups for 12 years but would now seek to uphold peace. Previously, Sinorn had been a leader of the opposition CNRP’s youth movement — and later the opposition Candlelight Party — in South Korea, where tens of thousands of Cambodians are employed as migrant workers.
Sinorn also claimed that he had not seen any individuals or groups coming forward to defend him or another opposition activist, Hun Kosal, detained for similar posts on the same day. Both were detained in March for posting critical comments about the role of the King in relation to Prime Minister Hun Sen. He and Kosal faced charges of insulting the King and incitement to cause “chaos to social security.”
The charge of insulting the King could lead to five years in prison and a 10 million riel ($2,457) fine. Kosal remains in pre-trial detention.
Sinorn bashed opposition groups and civil society for not protesting his detention.
“There are no photos or statements of condemnation coming out of their mouths,” Sinorn wrote on FAcebook. “ I don’t hear and I’m not finding anything, instead of this they accuse me and my friend Hun Kosal that we are in prison as just a show.”
Candlelight Party spokesperson Kimsour Phearith said any citizen could switch their political allegiance and that Sinorn’s defection from the opposition would not impact the popularity of Candlelight.
“It is his right, honestly, I have been affiliated with the opposition party for 20 years so far, I have never known Yim Sinorn,” he said.
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan could not be reached for comment.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said the Candlelight Party had already lost high level leaders and so Sinorn’s defection would likely not have a major influence on the opposition. But he said the opposition’s ability to compete in the July elections would depend on its willingness to unite and publicly express viewpoints.
“Whether the opposition decreases its voice or not, I don’t think it’s influenced by Yim Sinorn who just surrendered to the ruling party and the government,” Sovannara said. “It depends on the action and work of the opposition.”