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Gloves off as election nears

3 kem sokha pha lina

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday offered congratulations to the opposition party – which on Friday registered for the July elections just days before the registration period closed – before mockingly taking aim at its acting head.

“Before, they threatened not to take part in the election. Now, clearly, they have confirmed they will participate [in the election]. Very many congratulations,” Hun Sen said.

Speaking at a pagoda inauguration in Kampong Chhnang, Hun Sen spent much of his speech discussing acting Cambodia National Rescue Party president Kem Sokha, whom he claimed to have taken pains to teach and referred to throughout the speech as “young brother”.

“[I] would like to tell young brother, while doing politics, don’t be so ignorant! Be cleverer! Study from your elder sibling, too! If Hun Sen speaks wrong, let it be . . . Because the mistakes of Hun Sen are a gain for young brother’s party.”

Referring to Sokha’s recent pronouncement that the Cambodian People’s Party ran Hun Sen as its head because of insufficient human resources, the premier urged Sokha to follow a more wily line of politics.

“Young brother wants to find weak points of the ruling party to hit. So if Hun Sen speaks wrong, why not let Hun Sen speak more?”

Reiterating a conjecture offered last week, Hun Sen said the reason for the lag in CNRP registration was likely due to internal strife and reflected Sokha’s inability to control the recently merged party.

Speaking by phone following the premier’s speech, Sokha flatly denied both the allegations and the premier’s claims of friendship and political education.

“He is like charcoal. If he acts in a cool [friendly] manner, it dirties us. When he acts with heat, it burns,” Sokha said. “What he said is a trick of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge partisan issues this trick when he is out of time.”

Sokha also brushed off the “ignorant” characterisation.

“I am only ignorant in bad tricks, but when it comes to doing right according to the law, Hun Sen cannot beat me,” he said.

Three days before the registration period closed, the CNRP filed its candidate list. Initially, the party disclaimed interest in registering, saying they were focused solely on reforming the voter list and the National Election Committee – which last month rejected their latest suggestions for restructuring. Later, the party said the delay was because they were brokering a way to have party president Sam Rainsy – who is ineligible to run due to his criminal convictions – listed on the ballot.

In the end, the party submitted a list sans Rainsy, party officials said.  

Spokesman Nhem Ponharith said the about-face came after the party was unable to find any legal avenues they felt the NEC would accept.

“However, we will still keep his name as a prime minister candidate. If we win the election, we will amend constitution to have him be prime minister,” Ponharith said.

Legally, such a move would require an unprecedented success at the polls. In order to amend the constitution, a two-thirds majority is required. Currently, the opposition parties hold 29 of 123 seats.

Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile in France to avoid 12 years’ imprisonment on a raft of charges widely believed to be politically motivated, would also still have to be pardoned by the King, said political analyst Lao Mong Hay. “Otherwise, they cannot do this.”

Rainsy’s deputy, Sokha, the CNRP revealed yesterday, was given full power as acting party president with the right to sign off on all party decisions by Rainsy on April 20.   

On May 20, Ponharith said, the party will hold its second mass demonstration, calling again for reform of the NEC and a review of the voter list, which they – along with a number of election watchdogs – contend is riddled with irregularities.

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