Exiled Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy has thrown his support behind the current defense minister’s son to become prime minister four months ahead of July’s general elections.
The announcement followed a report about a shakeup and power struggle within the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP, over the selection of a new leader to succeed Hun Sun, who has ruled the country since 1985.
Sam Rainsy, acting president of the disbanded opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, posted a statement Friday on Facebook backing Tea Seiha, governor of Siem Reap province and the son of Defense Minister Tea Banh, as a prime ministerial candidate for the 2023-28 term.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party was the previous main opposition party before Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved it in 2017. Sam Rainsy, a party co-founder, has been living in self-exile in France since 2015, when he fled a series of charges his supporters say are politically motivated.
“The Cambodian people who want freedom and justice must unite around Tea Seiha, Tea Banh and Tea Vinh in order to bring about a democratic change in the country’s leadership through peaceful and nonviolent means, meaning free and fair elections,” he wrote.
Admiral Tea Vinh is the brother of Tea Banh and commander of the Royal Cambodian Navy. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Tea Vinh in late 2021 for corruption concerning China’s involvement in the redevelopment of Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville province, which could give Chinese forces a stronghold in the contested South China Sea.
In Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia scored only 24 out of 100, and was ranked at 150 out of 180 countries.
“Such a change will promote a new leadership which is not made up of murderers, desperately corrupt people and traitors to the nation such as Hun Sen and his family,” Sam Rainsy wrote, referring to the authoritarian prime minister who has ruled Cambodia for 38 years.