Mr. Kem Sokha is deputy president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). He founded the Human Rights Party in 2007, which later merged with the largest opposition group, the Sam Rainsy Party, to form the CNRP in 2012.
Kem Sokha is from the southern region of Takeo Province. He previously headed several civil society groups, including the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia.
Why is he in the news?
Kem Sokha has been the face of Cambodian opposition campaign for the July 28 national elections as Sam Rainsy remained in exile until last week. To many western observers, CNRP president Sam Rainsy has symbolized the political opposition in Cambodia in the past two decades. However, since he went into self-exile in France in 2009, Kem Sokha has become the face of the party in Cambodia. He has established himself as a notable leader during Sam Rainsy’s absence, drawing large crowds on the campaign trail and at public addresses in the lead-up to the elections.
What can we expect?
At the same time as the CNRP is rising in popularity, Kem Sokha’s leadership has not escaped controversy. The politician came under fire in June for allegedly commenting that Vietnamese soldiers staged the notorious Khmer Rouge prison Tuol Sleng. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party used the comment to stoke its base, passing a law banning genocide denial and staging wide scale protests.
With Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia, many in the west are returning their attention to him. The size of the crowd that greeted Sam Rainsy at the Phnom Penh airport on July 19 far exceeded expectations. Part of this is due to on-the-ground support of the long-celebrated CNRP president. But Kem Sokha’s role in building the CNRP’s base has been tremendous. Especially with the July 22 National Election Commission ruling that Sam Rainsy cannot run in this months’ elections, observers should not underestimate Kem Sokha’s future as a major figure in Cambodian politics.