Facing Legal Threat, CNRP Set to Drop Campaign Slogan

Facing a potentially devastating lawsuit from the long-ruling CPP, the opposition CNRP is reportedly abandoning its campaign slogan for the coming commune elections.

The CNRP unveiled the slogan—“change commune chiefs who serve the party with commune chiefs who serve the people”—at a party congress earlier this month. Within days, the CPP accused the party of insulting its chiefs and threatened to sue for incitement unless the tagline was withdrawn.

CNRP’s campaign slogan meaning “Change commune chiefs who serve the party and replace them with commune chiefs who serve the people”. (Ben Sokhean/The Cambodia Daily)

A few days later, Senate President and CPP stalwart Say Chhum signed into force new amendments to the Law on Political Parties that enshrine grounds for suspending and dissolving whole political parties based on incitement, raising the prospect of the CNRP’s disqualification ahead of the June 4 poll.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia on Friday, CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said the party was giving up the offending phrase, reversing the party’s earlier promises to stick with it.

“The CNRP will organize a five-point policy to share with the people without stating this slogan,” he was quoted as saying.

Mr. Chhay said he was too busy to speak with a reporter on Sunday. Pol Ham, one of three newly appointed vice presidents of the party, appeared to confirm the decision, claiming the opposition wanted to tamp down political tensions ahead of the election.

“We want a better political situation in the run-up to the election, so we don’t want to use a slogan that causes disagreement,” he said. “We said one or two words and it hurt the feelings of a political party and some people. We do not lack other slogans to replace it with.”

Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy suggested some alternate slogans on his Facebook page when the CPP initially raised its objection to the slogan, among them “Replace darkness with sunlight” and “Replace kleptocracy with democracy.”

Mr. Ham said he was confident that changing slogans would not make the party look weak or cost it votes.

“One or two slogans are not important. Our brothers and sisters are not stupid,” he said. “The people now are looking at each party’s actions, whether they have done things to benefit the nation and whether they are good or bad.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he welcomed the opposition’s pledge to abandon the slogan, but said his party might still file a lawsuit until the CNRP put their decision in writing.

“We cannot believe them at all if there is no public statement,” he said.

Contacted again in the afternoon, Mr. Ham would not give a definitive answer when asked whether the party would issue a statement.

“We cannot do whatever they want,” he said. “We just follow our own plan.”

The CPP approved the amendments giving the government and courts their new powers to suspend and dissolve political parties in parliamentary sessions boycotted by the opposition, which was joined by rights groups in calling the changes unconstitutional. The U.S. and E.U. both issued statements expressing their concern over the amendments, but only after they had been passed by the National Assembly.

But with the government and courts firmly in the CPP’s grasp, analysts and observers say, the CNRP will gradually tone down its often fiery campaign rhetoric in hopes of surviving until June’s local elections, and then the all-important national election in the middle of next year.

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