Former Prime Minister Hun Sen, who remains president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), responded mockingly to a self-exiled official of the long-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). 

Though he did not name names, Hun Sen was apparently referring to Eng Chhay Eang, a former senior lawmaker from the CNRP who recently suggested that opposition politicians should quit if they feared the ruling party or CPP-led government agencies. 

“Let me make a brief response so that this individual does not forget himself or shoot himself in the foot. This person had loudly proclaimed from the US to the opposition in Cambodia, urging them not to fear the threat of the interior ministry. 

“If he were truly brave, why did he flee the country in 2017 when there was no reason for him to be handcuffed? Why did he choose to flee then and appear brave now?” the CPP president said in a January 13 social media post.

Chhay Eang said in his own social media post the previous day that Cambodian opposition politicians should resign if they gave in to the “threats”. 

“I suggested that the leaders of the opposition should quit if they are afraid of threats from the interior ministry, because the public would not vote for leaders who are fearful,” he said, without naming any political party.

Seun Sam, a policy researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, noted that the situation in Cambodian society was complex. 

He criticised Chhay Eang, who, while in self-exile, had urged the opposition to disregard the ministry’s instructions. 

“The members of the opposition today adhere to the laws, thereby showing respect for the interior ministry. This is because the ministry is responsible for applying the laws equally to political parties in Cambodia. Hence, they are law-abiding members. However, it is incorrect for someone who didn’t respect the law themselves to advise others not to fear the law,” he said.

He added that Chhay Eang’s comments were only meant for those who had abandoned the political arena. 

Sam deemed Hun Sen’s response appropriate, asserting that Chhay Eang was unfit for politics in the country as he represented the opposition outside the political arena.

In a January 13 statement, the opposition Candlelight Party disassociated itself from any individuals convicted of crimes or felonies. 

“The Candlelight Party operates and makes decisions based on our sovereign responsibility, as stated in our bylaw, without direct or indirect orders from any individual or another political party,” the statement clarified.

On January 12, the ministry issued a warning to all political parties registered for the upcoming 5th Senate election, which instructed them to cease all activities violating political party law. 

The statement followed provocations by former opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, who had incited three political parties to act against Cambodian law.