Permanent Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chinn, the country’s top official in charge of land disputes, will take over the cabinet in the wake of the death of minister for the Council of Ministers Sok An on Wednesday, it was announced yesterday.
Spokesman for the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan said Chhin would become the “temporary” minister for the Council of Ministers until the National Assembly could approve a replacement.
Siphan said it “looked like” Chhin would be proposed to fill the role permanently, though added the decision resided with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
While Council Secretary of State Bun Uy had been acting minister in Sok An’s absence, Siphan said Chhin was next in line due to his senior rank.
“According to the internal rules, he is the prospective minister of the Council of Ministers ... But it’s still the choice of the prime minister to appoint anyone,” he said.
An official document circulated by local media, signed by Hun Sen yesterday, named Chinn has acting minister in charge of the cabinet.
However, Siphan said he was a “temporary” minister, which he said was different.
“An acting [minister] has no power to do anything else but just to [continue] the regular administration, but [Chinn] is a permanent deputy prime minster. He has full rights, as a temporary minister, to act on behalf of the prime minister.”
Though long considered Hun Sen’s right-hand man, Sok An’s political influence had waned in recent years and his passing was unlikely to impact the power balance within the Cambodian People’s Party, observers noted yesterday.
“[First] it looks like a long-term and terminal illness, and the CPP is likely much more prepared for any transition,” Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, said.
“Second, the power dynamic has already been shifted since the 2013 election, with much of his power stripped. It was no-where close to how much influence he used to have.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a long-time and well-connected observer said the erosion of Sok An’s powerbase began before the CPP’s poor showing at the last national election, as the late minister’s creation of an “empire” within government and financial circles had sewn distrust.
“His power in the administration, supplemented by his financial links, gave Sok An a threatening position within the government, that is why Prime Minister Hun Sen had to do something,” he said.
“From 2008, many of his powers have been gradually taken away from him, many people loyal to him were quietly put somewhere else.”
Unreachable yesterday, Chhin, who became a deputy prime minister in 2007, has been chairman of the inter-ministerial National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution since 2008, when he replaced Sok An, who presided over
the body when it was established in 2006.
He was also president of the Constitutional Council be-tween 2001 and 2007, and previously a lawmaker for Prey Veng for the CPP.
Eang Vuthy of Equitable Cambodia said that while “some progress” had been made in addressing land disputes, it was difficult to assess Chhin’s contribution as the issue remained a “big and complex problem”.
Meanwhile, opposition politician and former member of the Constitutional Council Son Soubert said he considered Chhin an honest and efficient leader, who he said instituted evaluation-based recruitment for staff at the body.
“I hope Mr Bin Chhin’s up to the task. He has the qualities [needed],” he said.