March 14, 2017 / 12:35 PM / 3 years ago

Cambodian opposition leader campaigns after predecessor quits to save party

KANDAL, Cambodia, March 14 (Reuters) - New Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha began a pre-election tour to rally support on Tuesday after his veteran predecessor resigned in fear that his party could be dissolved by the state.

Kem Sokha became leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) this month after the resignation of Sam Rainsy, who said he wanted to save the party in the face of a legal change to allow authorities to dissolve any party whose leader has been convicted of an offence.

Sam Rainsy has been convicted of a series of defamation charges and has lived in France since 2015 to avoid them.

Rivals accuse Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre who has brought Cambodia close to China, of unfair manoeuvring to keep his three-decade-old grip on power at local elections in June and a general election next year.

At a meeting of around 1,000 local party leaders, Kem Sokha said the CNRP would avoid getting caught up in fights with Hun Sen.

“We focus on policies, we don’t fight and we look to the future,” Kem Sokha said in Kandal province, outside Phnom Penh.

It is the first time the party has contested the communal elections, putting up 25,304 candidates for 1,646 communes across Cambodia.

Miguel Chanco, regional lead analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the change in leadership might not harm the party’s prospects.

“Over the long run, we think that the formal elevation of Kem Sokha could bolster the CNRP’s support in rural Cambodia, thereby potentially posing a greater threat to Hun Sen’s rule,” he said. (Editing by Nick Macfie)

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