Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Wednesday delivered an appeal for calm and negotiations, declaring political competition is “not the enemy”.
Seen by many as a moderate voice within the Cambodian People’s Party, Kheng said there needed to be acceptance of the fact that politics are inherently competitive.
“This is competition, and we need to understand this issue and not go beyond that,” he said. “When we go beyond it, there will a break in the nation and it will not become democracy, but anarchy. The competition is to serve people, and it is not the enemy.”
The remarks follow months of political turbulence, with the ruling CPP accused of using the courts to harass the Cambodia National Rescue Party with questionable legal cases.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, in particular, has adopted a tough stance, threatening to “eliminate” the CNRP if it goes ahead with plans for mass demonstrations.
In recent days, however, the CPP appears to have softened its stance, with the premier hinting at possible negotiations at the National Assembly.
Warning against “fighting”, Kheng said it was time to “sit together” and “create a multi-party democracy” where opponents were considered “competitors”, not “enemies”.
Though Kheng was once a leader within a faction of the CPP loyal to the late Chea Sim, once a rival to Hun Sen’s own powerbase, political analyst Ou Virak said he believed the interior minister’s comments were part of a “good cop, bad cop” strategy, rather than a sign of dissent within the ruling party’s ranks.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton