Prime Minister Hun Sen warned deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha yesterday that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party could easily remove him as first deputy president of parliament at any time – the first sign of brewing conflict between the pair since Sokha took the job late last month.
The threat came just days after Sokha promised a crowd of party members in Siem Reap that he would use the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s newfound power in the National Assembly – along with the help of a few CPP lawmakers – to summons and vote out long-serving and “corrupt” government ministers.
Speaking to several thousand people during the groundbreaking for a new overpass in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district yesterday, Hun Sen asked Sokha for a “ceasefire”.
“It is the period of Pchum Ben. We should celebrate the festival and avoid insulting each other. [We should] not be touring [and talking to people] for political gain,” the premier said, without referring to Sokha by name. “Wherever you go, you find ways to talk about voting out the prime minister and ministers.”
Since being voted in as first deputy president in parliament on August 26, an arrangement prescripted under a political deal signed between the CPP and CNRP on July 22, Sokha has also pledged to try and introduce prime ministerial term limits this mandate.
As he implored Sokha to back off yesterday, Hun Sen cited comments made by CNRP leader Sam Rainsy last month, in which he hailed the freshly filled parliament as part of a new dawn of political reconciliation in Cambodia.
“I would like to send a message that we must have a ceasefire. And we are not the same as in Ukraine [where a recent ceasefire was broken]. We have said that we will work together,” the premier said. “If you [the CNRP] want to vote out ministers, it’s OK, but we can also vote out the first deputy president of the National Assembly.… It is the same, and it will go back and forth.”
Despite new power-sharing arrangements, the CPP still holds a seven-to-six majority on the assembly’s permanent standing committee and an absolute majority on the floor of parliament, Hun Sen pointed out.
Speaking to the Post yesterday, Sokha said the prime minister had no right to pressure him to stifle criticism of government ministers, given that the CNRP was not in a coalition government.
“I think that he is very worried, and his speech means to defend corrupt officials. It is contrary to his speech [last year] in which he called on his own cabinet to clean themselves up,” Sokha said, before explaining what exactly he had promised CNRP district and commune councillors on Saturday in Siem Reap town.
“I talked about legal issues, and I just explained to the people that according to the internal regulations of the National Assembly, 30 lawmakers can raise a motion to [summons and] accuse a corrupt [minister], who can then be voted out if a majority is obtained – for which the CNRP only needs seven votes from the CPP.”