Prominent labor leader joins Cambodian opposition

Union president Rong Chhun announced he’s joining the Candlelight Party.
By RFA Khmer
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Prominent labor leader joins Cambodian opposition Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Federation of Unions, gestures after being released from Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh on Nov. 12, 2021.
Credit: AFP

Prominent Cambodian labor leader Rong Chhun has announced he is joining the opposition Candlelight Party, saying he wants to help it to win upcoming national elections.

Rong Chhun, 53, is the President of the Cambodian Federation of Unions and holds several top labor roles in the country, alongside being a former member of the National Election Committee. 

Speaking on Tuesday, he said he hopes to help the party “compete in the election which takes place on July 23, 2023,” adding that he supports its platform of “freedom, human rights, justice and democracy.” 

He said he will be resigning from several labor positions in the coming days to focus on campaigning.

Rong Chhun also said that although he is joining a political party, he will continue to advocate for the rights of teachers and other workers throughout Cambodia.

“I am still able to help whenever the workers and the teachers reach me … Being a politician does not change my goal of helping the people.”

Sok Eysan, a spokesperson for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said that he wasn’t surprised by Rong Chhun’s decision, noting that the labor leader often expresses views in opposition to the government. 

The spokesperson also dismissed Rong Chhun’s suggestion that he will be able to help the Candlelight Party make gains in the upcoming elections. 

Candlelight spokesperson Kimsour Phirith, on the other hand, said he believes the party will benefit from Rong Chhun’s experience, adding that he may be given a high-ranking position in electoral leadership.

Rong Chhun’s decision comes amid a wide-ranging crackdown by authorities against the Candlelight Party, with Prime Minister Hun Sen repeatedly attacking his opponents in public forums. Three senior members of the party have been sued by authorities, and one has been arrested on what many observers see as politically motivated charges. 

In 2020, authorities sentenced Rong Chhun to two years in prison for criticizing the government’s failure to address disputes over the country’s shared border with Vietnam in 2020.

Political analyst Em Sovannara told RFA that Rong Chhun’s decision is good for pro-democracy forces in Cambodia.

“[This] wakes up the democrats and those who want to join the opposition party; they shouldn’t be afraid [to run for election],” he said. 

Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Nawar Nemeh and Joshua Lipes.


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