In another effort to cement the so-called culture of dialogue between the two major parties, Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy brought their families together on Saturday for what Rainsy billed as a “historic” meal during which they posed for selfies, while steering clear of any political chat.
The gathering at Phnom Penh’s Cambodiana Hotel saw Hun Sen, his wife, Bun Rany, four of their children and their son-in-law join for the first time to break bread with Rainsy, his wife, Tioulong Saumura, their daughter and son.
In a post to his Facebook page yesterday, which accompanied photographs of the “special family meeting”, Rainsy said the aim of the meal was to “expand the culture of dialogue to all levels and all members of both parties, and to our children and the next generation of Cambodians.
“This culture of dialogue will ensure Cambodians’ happiness despite political changes in the future,” he wrote.
He added that the dinner was enjoyed in a “friendly atmosphere”, which saw the two leaders happily pose for a selfie, seemingly to the fascination of hotel staff.
Sok Ey San, spokesman of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the two families used the opportunity to “get to know and understand each other”, while avoiding topics that could spoil the jovial mood.
“Nothing serious was discussed,” he said.
“For example, with LANGO [a controversial draft Law on Associations and Non Governmental Organisations], where the Cambodia National Rescue Party strongly oppose it but the CPP want to pass it . . . how could they talk about this in front of the children?”
Ey San said it was hoped that the meeting would lead to long-lasting friendships between the two families.
The family gathering was first mentioned publicly by Hun Sen during April’s Khmer New Year festivities.
The premier said a meal between both sides would allow the leaders’ offspring to learn about and embrace the culture of dialogue adopted by their fathers in recent months.
In his post yesterday, Rainsy said his party had made a number of gains since warming relations with their opponents, including the creation of the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s first television station, reforms to the National Election Committee, and, more generally, achieving a peaceful atmosphere ahead of the 2017 and 2018 elections.
Political analyst Chea Vannath said that both parties had much to gain from the weekend’s meeting.
“The CPP might want to make diehard supporters of the CNRP disappointed” so that they will lose votes in the next election, she said.
Meanwhile the CNRP is given a platform from which to push for its own “national and social interests”.
However, Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, said such “PR stunts” carry major risks for the opposition.
While “it’s a good thing to [the] extent they don’t treat each other as enemies anymore”, the honeymoon could fracture the CNRP, he explained.
“If there’s no problem with the ruling policy, why is there an opposition? If the opposition is happy with [the current political structure], why shouldn’t the public be?”
Virak said Rainsy may be biding his time until the opposition’s TV station starts running, trying to instill confidence in Hun Sen to give up power, or looking towards leaving a legacy of peace.
Whatever the reason, he said, the tactic risks alienating voters, and splitting the party itself.
Rainsy could not be reached yesterday, but CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party was not concerned about losing support.
“No one wants war, no one wants violence,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY