Human Rights Party president Kem Sokha has accused the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of leaking a recorded conversation between himself and Prime Minister Hun Sen in retaliation for his refusal to collaborate with the CPP.
In the recording, which dates back to 2007 and was posted on Sunday by DAP News, Kem Sokha can be heard asking the premier for assistance in securing use of the Olympic Stadium for a party conference. The Sam Rainsy Party, the Kingdom’s largest opposition party, has seized on the recording as evidence of alleged collusion between the HRP and CPP and has said that flagging negotiations on an SRP-HRP merger will be halted as a result.
Kem Sokha claimed yesterday that the leak had been orchestrated as a result of his repeated rebuffs of entreaties from the ruling party.
“They have tried very hard. They have tried to persuade me and have also threatened me, but I have not agreed,” he said, adding that if he had indeed colluded with the CPP, “please let lightning strike me”.
In the recording, Kem Sokha can be heard attempting to mollify Hun Sen in advance of future criticisms.
“I would like to inform Samdech that if I am against what Samdech is doing, the principles by which I work are from my heart,” Kem Sokha says, using the premier’s honourific.
“I would ask Samdech to understand that we can work together in the future.”
Hun Sen later responds that even if politicians from the ruling party and opposition attack one another, “we can still have friendly cooperation with each other”.
The premier later suggests that the HRP poach members from the SRP.
“I think a good idea is to grab some people in the provinces, provincial council members of the Sam Rainsy Party – good people who have the ability to attract votes,” Hun Sen says.
Kem Sokha responds “yes” to this statement on the recording before changing the subject. He said yesterday, however, that this assent was merely one of politeness. “I did not say I agreed to do what he said,” Kem Sokha said. “I said that I will oppose him.”
Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said that despite Kem Sokha’s protestations, the recording could prove politically damaging for the HRP.
“People are suspicious of that because it seems like he’s allowed to freely attack the government, whereas anything that Sam Rainsy would say on radio or elsewhere would get a reaction from the government,” Hang Chhaya said.
In a statement issued yesterday, the SRP cabinet said the recording “has the effect of a bomb on Cambodia’s political landscape”.
“Hun Sen and Kem Sokha clearly showed their common goal: the destruction of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), the main opposition party that had unwaveringly been standing against the CPP,” the SRP said. “Kem Sokha is not an honest man. He is not honest with the SRP and cannot be a loyal partner.”
The SRP and HRP have long mooted a potential merger, and last year, United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton reportedly encouraged the two parties to form a united opposition against the CPP. The CPP currently holds 90 seats in the National Assembly, compared with 25 for the SRP and three for the HRP.
In the past few months, however, the merger talks have broken down amid recriminations from both sides.
“Kem Sokha’s duplicity does not allow the SRP to consider his HRP as a possible partner in any alliance,” the SRP cabinet said yesterday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH AND JAMES O’TOOLE