TENSIONS over the personal style of Hun Sen rose at a recent Cambodian People's Party
congress which independent observers say was carried out with unprecedented openness.
Several delegates boldly questioned the behaviour of Hun Sen, the Second Prime Minister
and CPP vice-president, particularly over his expensive rural development programs
and his outspoken political style.
The three-day Extraordinary General Assembly lived up to its name: Hun Sen was moved
to deny that he was engaging in "demagogy"; a CPP General urged the Prime
Minister to work more with his party, not just on his own, to "fight" for
public support; and a staunch political and military supporter of Hun Sen's suffered
a shock rejection in an election of new CPP Central Committee members.
At the heart of the behind-closed-doors controversy was the implication that Hun
Sen was acting primarily on his own behalf, rather than for the sake of the party
as a whole, in the run-up to commune and national elections.
Most surprising at the Jan 24-27 assembly was the failure of Kun Kim, the deputy
governor of Kandal province, to secure a place among 85 new Central Committee members.
As well, two Hun Sen nominees - Om Yentieng, one of his advisors, and Keo Pong, the
Khmer Rouge defector who brought many of his former comarades into the CPP fold-
failed to get on the ballot.
Kim - widely known as the "third prime minister" - is a long-time supporter
of Hun Sen's within the party. In recent years, for instance, he has provided troops
for Hun Sen at times when the Second Prime Minister has gone on alert against perceived
Kim apparently cost himself a position on the Central Committee because of a fiery
speech - in support of Hun Sen, and critical of other CPP officials - he delivered
before the vote.
CPP sources suggest that congress delegates used the opportunity to show their desire
for a moderate and consensual approach to party politics.
A CPP general, in an impromptu speech, spoke of the elections as a battlefield which
required both artillery and infantry to achieve a victory.
"In my opinion, Samdech Second Prime Minister should stop launching big cannons,"
the CPP general was reported to have said.
That was a message taken on board by one other Hun Sen supporter - Phnom Penh deputy
governor and Hun Sen's advisor Chea Sophara - who only narrowly won enough votes
for a Central Committee seat.
"I too am used to speaking with strong words, [but] now I have to change,"
Sophara told journalists a day after the congress in apparent recognition that the
party wanted more moderate leadership.
Hun Sen himself was said to be shocked by the rejection of Kun Kim at the congress,
while Kim was clearly upset - he didn't show up for the closing banquet.
But while Hun Sen suffered an embarrassment at the congress, it was by no means a
serious blow. He faced no direct challenge to his leadership as CPP Vice-President,
and many of his firm supporters - such as police chief Hok Lundy and military police
commander Kieng Savuth - secured places on the Central Committee.
Prior to the congress, however, CPP sources revealed that Hun Sen had agreed to convene
the General Assembly only after receiving assurances that the removal of current
Central Committee members would not be one of the items placed on the agenda.
"We are not holding an ordinary assembly, and this [extraordinary one] will
not dissolve the old committee either," Hun Sen said to journalists during a
break in the congress.
Despite repeated denials of there being any split within the CPP, some observers
noted that of the 85 new members of the Central Committee, several can be grouped
as staunch supporters of either Chea Sim or Hun Sen.
In comments to journalists during the congress, Hun Sen stressed the unity of the
party. "Any report about friction within the CPP is inacurate. Rumors about
friction have existed since 1984, now it's 1997."
The Congress also adopted a political platform to insure political stability.
CPP sources present at the congress said that the party discussed a plan of action
in case of a Funcinpec pull-out from the National Assembly prior to the elections,
and examined the likelihood of that resulting in an armed confrontation between the
According to party sources, Chea Sim reiterated the need for dialogue and appealed
"We know that [Funcinpec] always wants to punch us, but what we ought to do
is to convince them to resist their desire to do so," Chea Sim was quoted as
Seemingly in line with the newly adopted party platform, Hun Sen announced the formation
of an alliance with other political parties.
On Feb 3, at a signing ceremony of an alliance agreement between CPP and the Liberal
Democratic Party-an outgrowth of Khmer People's National Liberation Front Armed Forces
- Hun Sen said, "We simply want to maintain political stability in the framework
of the current constitution for the sake of development. It is important for the
At the time, co-Premier Hun Sen also announced that a similar alliance was to be
inked with Ieng Mouly's faction of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party on Feb 5.
Hun Sen added that all agreements cointained a clause barring "both parties
from making an alliance with any political party or group that opposes their main
partner in the alliance."
A total of between five to ten parties are expected to join the alliance with CPP.