Ten of the Kingdom’s 24 ministerial positions are set to be reshuffled at the launch of the new government, according to an internal party memo obtained yesterday.
Among those tapped for a cabinet position is Say Sam El – the 34-year-old son of Senate deputy president Say Chhum and one of six ruling party scions who failed to win a seat at the National Assembly. Sam El is set to become the new minister of environment.
But while Sam El represents a much-touted push for new blood, many of those taking the helm are long-serving secretaries of state, and at least three already head other ministries.
Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng will switch positions with Minister of Labour Vong Sauth. Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh will be moved to the Ministry of Mines and Energy. He, in turn, will be replaced by Council for the Development of Cambodia vice chairman Sun Chan Thol.
In other changes, Aun Ponmoniroth will become the new minister of finance; Ouk Rabun will take over the Ministry of Agriculture; Prak Sokhon has been tapped to head the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications; Phoeung Leakhana will lead the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts; and Hang Chuon Naron will lead the Ministry of Education.
Government officials, including those on the list, said they were unaware of the document and refused to comment.
Sokhon, who is also a personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and a spokesman for the Cambodian People’s Party, said only “I do not know” before declining to answer any more questions.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he was unable to comment on the document as it did not bear a signature and hence was not official.
“I believe that there will be reform in the fifth mandate government and there will be some change, but I don’t believe any document without a signature,” he said.
Minister of Information and CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said he was unable to comment on the document.
“I cannot confirm about the draft that was leaked to the media and on Facebook, but the ruling Cambodian People’s Party itself has completely drafted for the fifth mandate government, and in the draft, the majority of ministers were still the same [as during the fourth mandate], but there was reshuffling of the lower-ranking officials,” Kanharith said, declining to provide names.
“The reshuffles were made smoothly and aimed at deep reform in accordance with the message of the people.”
The cabinet changes come after the ruling party’s worst performance since the 1998 election, and amid growing public dissent with the leadership. The party has publicly vowed reforms, but analysts said yesterday that the reshuffle demonstrated its seeming inability to change.
“In order to make a good reform and structure they must look at new people and new leadership, especially the young people,” political analyst Kem Ley said. “[It is] not effective to just move [ministers] from one position to another like that.”
If the party really desired to change, he continued, they would open the application process in order to recruit promising individuals from a wide pool.
They would also seek input from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which would show “respect” for the minority party that now holds 55 of 123 seats at parliament.
But the opposition, for its part, said they were uninterested in the CPP’s cabinet reshuffle.
“I think they get our message clearly and strongly that we have no desire to be in the government,” party whip Son Chhay said. “I saw now that there are also some new cabinet members, but I don’t think it will make any difference if there aren’t checks and balances in the system.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ABBY SEIFF