Days after firebrand deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha used a trip to the US to finally air his longstanding grievances with last July’s political deal, Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on the courts to take legal action against him for trying to overthrow the government.
The dramatics occurred as both parties, who have been collaborating under a new and much-touted “culture of dialogue”, are expected today to pass two controversial election-related laws that they have been drafting over several months.
In a speech to supporters in Long Beach, California, late last week, Sokha had recounted the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s failed attempts to get Hun Sen to stand down following the disputed 2013 election.
At the time, the party lobbied the international community for an electoral inquiry and held massive street protests calling for change.
“We wanted to change quickly, we wanted to have a positive change quickly and completely.… [But] I can say that I am sorry to all of you that I could not lead this change [and achieve] 100 per cent at once,” Sokha said while explaining why the CNRP eventually entered talks with the CPP.
In response, Hun Sen, speaking yesterday at a road inauguration in Banteay Meanchey province, called on the courts to take legal action against Sokha for having allegedly confessed he tried to “topple” the government.
“Now, the leader of [the group] that tried to quickly topple the royal government has showed his face and confessed,” he said.
“So legal measures for taking action [against him] must be created and added to [his] existing cases. I hope that the court is not stupid and will note these words.”
Sokha has been summonsed to court in connection with a litany of cases in recent years, ranging from an alleged mistress demanding child support, a defamation suit from an S-21 prison survivor and an opposition-led protest that turned violent last July.
Hun Sen claimed that it would be easy for the National Assembly to strip Sokha of his parliamentary immunity, despite the fact that his party does not hold the majority required for that to be done.
He also called on people who suffered property damage as a result of post-election demonstrations to demand compensation from Sokha.
“Catch him, bring him back and demand money. This is right; there would be nothing wrong with that,” Hun Sen said.
The opposition party yesterday defended Sokha’s speech in the US, saying he had never claimed the party had tried to topple the government.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith argued that Hun Sen was misinterpreting Sokha’s words.
“He did not mean like that. As a principle of the [CNRP], Mr Sam Rainsy and Mr Kem Sokha wanted to have a change [in Cambodia] … by peaceful means, by a free and fair election,” he said.
Despite asking the judiciary to take action against Sokha, the premier yesterday insisted that he could do nothing to free jailed opposition official and fierce government critic Meach Sovannara.
Hun Sen did not name Sovannara, who is facing charges of leading an insurrection and has been denied bail numerous times, but implied that any requests from the CNRP for him to use his executive power to intervene in the case would not work because the courts are independent.
“Why do you ask Hun Sen [to help]?” he said.
In February, Hun Sen called on the Ministry of Justice to investigate alleged bribe-taking at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after the parents of fugitive tycoon Thong Sarah were mysteriously released on bail.
Within hours, court president Ang Maltey was removed from his position by the Supreme Council of Magistracy.