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Exiled Cambodian opposition leader quits party to lead new organization

Mu Sochua announced her resignation from the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party.

Exiled opposition leader Mu Sochua announced her resignation from the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party and said she will lead the newly formed Khmer Movement for Democracy, an organization aimed at promoting democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia.

“We are very worried about the critical situation in Cambodia such as the Chinese military presence, cybercrime, corruption, forced evictions, territorial integrity, lack of court independence,” the former parliamentarian told Radio Free Asia from Japan, where she met with Cambodians living there. 

“We must seek solutions and this movement is a solution,” she said.

The Khmer Movement for Democracy was founded in Washington DC in September. Its website says it’s open to Cambodians of every political affiliation.

“Decades of corruption and authoritarian rule have left our people impoverished, our democracy dismantled, and our natural resources plundered,” the organization said. “The democratic space inside Cambodia has been simply shut down.”

Mu Sochua said the group won’t transform into another opposition political party. Instead, it’s a way to organize and unite Cambodians around the world. 

Until her recent resignation, Mu Sochua was vice president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, or CNRP. It had been the country’s main opposition party until it was dissolved by the Supreme Court in 2017 after it made substantial gains in local communal elections.

The Khmer Movement for Democracy will largely be funded by donations from Cambodians, Mu Sochua said. It currently has enough funding for one year.

As the organization’s president, she recently traveled to Australia, New Zealand and South Korea to meet with Cambodian workers and exiles.

“The immediate goals within the next six months are to send messages to people to stop their fear, to work with NGOs, to do work to urge the Paris Agreement signatories to fulfill their duties and to initiate people to stand up and stop crying and being afraid,” Mu Sochua said.

The 1991 Paris Peace Agreement formally ended decades of war in Cambodia and paved the way for parliamentary democracy.

Arrested, fled or co-opted

In the years since the CNRP’s dissolution, all of Cambodia’s independent media outlets have been forced to close and pro-democracy activists have either been arrested, fled the country or have been co-opted by Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP.

In last year’s national election, the CPP won 120 of 125 seats in the National Assembly. Hun Sen stepped down as prime minister in August, paving the way for his eldest son, Hun Manet, to take over as head of the government.

The CNRP still exists as an organization in Cambodian communities in Australia, the United States and elsewhere. 

The party’s leader, Sam Rainsy, lives in France and has been convicted in absentia several times since 2016 in cases opposition officials have criticized as politically motivated. 

In October, a Cambodian court sentenced Mu Sochua, Sam Rainsy and 10 other activists to prison terms in a case connected to social media comments made in 2021. 

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Li Sokha also issued an arrest warrant for Mu Sochua, Sam Rainsy and two other CNRP leaders, all of whom live outside of Cambodia. Mu Sochua lives in the United States.

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Khmer.


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