As expected, members of the central committee of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Saturday elected Prime Minister and former party vice president Hun Sen into the party’s top slot to replace the late Chea Sim.
In the package vote, the party also elected Interior Minister Sar Kheng and newly elected Senate President Say Chhum to replace Hun Sen as co-vice presidents, causing some speculation as to why the party opted to choose two new deputies in his stead.
Five hundred eight out of the total 545 members of the committee attended the congress on Saturday at the party’s main headquarters on Phnom Penh’s Norodom Boulevard. The election came after the death of Sim, the long-serving former party president, on June 8 due to illness and old age, according to a CPP statement issued after the closed-door meeting.
“Congress [participants] directly and secretly voted for Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen to be president of the party,” the statement read, adding that “Samdech Vibol Sena Pheakdei Say Chhum, and Samdech Kralahom Sar Kheng, were elected as CPP Vice Presidents”.
Additionally, Say Chhum will also continue to hold his position as the party’s secretary-general.
Shortly after the selection, the CPP issued a separate statement reiterating that Hun Sen would remain prime minister and maintain his candidacy for the next national election after rumours swirled that he would give up his premiership Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on his Facebook page paraphrased a speech by Hun Sen given at the congress in which he warned CPP officials not to ignore their duties while continuing to milk the legacy of January 7, 1979, when members of the ruling party toppled the Khmer Rouge regime with Vietnamese backing.
“Please, CPP officials, don’t sleep and corrode the legacy of January 7, but actively serve and promote the needs of citizens,” he wrote on Saturday.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday also said that Hun Sen has advised all party officials to work hard to “successfully implement our political platform to gain more support from the Cambodian people”.
Opposition representatives could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Political commentator Ou Virak said that while Hun Sen’s selection was expected, the selection of two vice presidents had raised eyebrows.
“The question is why they decided to do that,” he said. “The CPP came out and said because of my criticism that they needed two [vice presidents] to help with the workload, but that doesn’t make any sense. You have one president, two vice presidents and one secretary general, but only three people. It has to be something beyond the workload.”
Virak suggested that having two “second men” may be a means of keeping those below Hun Sen appeased.
Additional reporting by Ethan Harfenist