Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday leaked a text message exchange with Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy in which he demanded an explanation for divisive remarks made by Rainsy over a year ago, and again told the opposition leader to rein in his deputy Kem Sokha.
In the conversation – which appeared to have occurred in recent days and was forwarded to DAP News via the premier’s WhatsApp account – Hun Sen threatens to have Sokha “fired” from his position as the National Assembly’s first deputy president if he continued attacking the ruling party.
He also questions Rainsy’s critical comments – included in a video sent by the prime minister – in which Rainsy alludes to Hun Sen as a “thief”, and tells supporters: “if we want to catch a thief we have to get closer”.
“This is the culture of dialogue Your Excellency wants? I need Your Excellency’s interpretation. I cannot accept such illustration,” Hun Sen wrote.
“I have to arrest the real thief and his men who are having a court case. Please, Your Excellency, do not rely on the thieves to pardon Your Excellency’s men,” he added, in what appears to be a veiled reference to several opposition activists facing insurrection charges.
He then writes: “Tell Kem Sokha, if he criticises one more time, the CPP will vote to fire him.”
The leak comes just a day after Hun Sen ordered an investigation into opposition members who routinely insult the Cambodian People’s Party.
In a response, also revealed by Hun Sen, Rainsy tells the prime minister the “thief” comments were made in April 2014 while he was facing allegations from within his party that their relationship was too close.
Although he faces similar criticism now, Rainsy said the pair had opened “a new page in history” with their “culture of dialogue”, a detente reached after agreement in July to end nearly a year of political deadlock following the disputed 2013 elections.
However, despite the truce, Hun Sen’s friendliness has not extended to Sokha, who – along with other hardliners in the CNRP – has continued criticising the CPP.
Commenting on the messages yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said Hun Sen was trying to find out who was an “honest partner in the culture of dialogue”.
He dismissed notions that his reference to “pardoning” Rainsy’s men referred to the court cases of CNRP members, including party information head Meach Sovannara, whose trial was yesterday announced for May 19.
Rainsy on Monday left for a one month trip to Canada and the United States to explain the “culture of dialogue” to supporters abroad.
Prior to leaving, he told Sokha, now CNRP acting president, as well as other members, to continue the culture of dialogue and avoid insults, but encouraged constructive criticism, according to Sovannara, who was released from pretrial detention last month on bail.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann affirmed yesterday that the opposition would not stop criticising the ruling party.
“If there is anything wrong we will tell government to amend it; criticism is a normal act in democratic regimes,” Sovann said.
Independent political analyst Ouk Serei Sopheak said yesterday that he didn’t see the leaked conversations as a political ploy to weaken the culture of dialogue, but added that the CPP and CNRP had “completely different” interpretations of what that phrase means.
“For the PM, the culture of dialogue means that when you want to criticise, when you want to say something bad, you do it face to face, you resolve it in the meeting room between themselves,” he said.
“But the opposition, since they have to compete, when they see something wrong, they will criticise [publicly].”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON