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Minister presses KNUP backers on support for Nhek Bun Chhay

KNUP supporters join a rally this month in Phnom Penh.
KNUP supporters join a rally this month in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Minister presses KNUP backers on support for Nhek Bun Chhay

Problems continue to grow for Khmer National United Party President Nhek Bun Chhay in the wake of the prime minister’s decision to terminate his role as a government adviser, with at least two members of his group defecting to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in a bid to protect their positions as undersecretaries of state.

The defections follow a tumultuous 10 days for the former commander of Cambodia’s military, who was fired from the advisory role on June 4, the day of the commune elections, amid allegations he pledged to support the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

One of the defectors said he decided to jump ship after being unexpectedly summoned to speak with his minister, whose line of questioning centred on his political allegiance.

The official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation, interpreted the meeting as a warning that his job was at stake if he continued to support Bun Chhay, he said, adding other KNUP members with government roles had also received similar calls.

“They asked which party we’ll stay with,” the official said. “My minister also called me to ask. I have already defected to the CPP. Maybe the prime minister told [the ministers] to ask.”

Another defector who requested anonymity said he heard the positions of all government officials from the KNUP were on the chopping block. “They asked me too – asked which party [I supported],” he said.

Bun Chhay split from the royalist Funcinpec party last year and started the KNUP, taking several officials with him.

His party officials were given government roles in 2013 while still with Funcinpec, though the party failed to win a single seat at that year’s national election.

Uncertain about their fate, many members of Funcinpec have also reached out to the Council of Ministers, said one royalist who works as an adviser to the government, adding that members of the main royalist party remained safe.

“If we stay with [Funcinpec] there is no problem, but for those staying with Nhek Bun Chhay, they will all be stripped,” said the official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Bun Chhay could not be reached yesterday. His assistant, Mak Chhea, said he was unaware of the defections.

On Tuesday, Voice of America quoted CNRP Deputy President Eng Chhay Eang saying that the KNUP leader had called him before the election and offered to tell his supporters to vote for the opposition in communes where KNUP did not have a candidate. Bun Chhay denied making the pledge, saying he accidentally called Chhay Eang and thought he was speaking to a member of his party with a similar name.

Analyst Cham Bunthet said it appeared the CPP saw “no more benefit” to allowing Bun Chhay to continue his party, especially after the recent rumours. “Nhek Bun Chhay’s party is a party that was used to break the support from the opposition party, but once they have no more effect . . . it’s time for them to leave Nhek Bun Chhay aside.”

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