Opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday said his party will soften its tone when criticising the Cambodian People’s Party, because the two are now dialogue partners and must respect each other as competitors, not see each other as “enemies”.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party leader made the comments hours after meeting with Interior Minister Sar Kheng at the National Assembly, where the recently appointed minority and majority party leaders spoke about the importance of respecting a political accord inked last year.
Rainsy’s remarks came 10 days after Prime Minister Hun Sen slammed the CNRP, and particularly its deputy leader Kem Sokha, for continuing to direct vitriol towards him despite the July 22 accord that pledged a new political culture.
The day before Hun Sen’s speech, Sokha had launched a fiery attack on the premier during a public forum in Phnom Penh that Hun Sen said was “very rude”.
“Today, I fight back. And I tell Excellency Sam Rainsy, the culture of dialogue, excellency, is not effective,” Hun Sen said last Monday.
“We do not have to have dialogue anymore.”
Since Hun Sen’s warning, which included a call for seven opposition lawmakers to be swiftly convicted on outstanding charges of insurrection, the CNRP has been far quieter, with Rainsy saying several times that he wished to reduce tensions.
In an interview yesterday, Rainsy said he was pleased that a “culture of elimination is [being] replaced with a culture of dialogue”, but admitted this means the opposition has to soften its tone.
“The implication is that we must respect each other as a dialogue partner. We must respect each other in deeds and also in words. There are many ways of saying something,” he said.
“And we also have to accept the fact that we are not enemies. We are only competitors who compete for power.”
The CNRP leader deflected suggestions that this would mean his party would no longer make tough public criticisms of the CPP or that it was cowing in the face of Hun Sen’s threats.
However, he said the opposition would now try to focus more on presenting itself as an alternative to the current government in stump speeches.
“It may mean we have to change a little bit the wording of our communication, but it doesn’t change anything…. The fact is, we are pursuing the same goal to reform the country,” he said.
“You may say it is a more civilised way, because Cambodian politics has not always been civilised.”
The CNRP led raucous street protests in late 2013 after claiming national elections had been rigged by the ruling party. At one point, more than 100,000 protesters joined opposition-led demonstrations calling for Hun Sen to step down.
During almost a year of political deadlock, the prime minister often painted Kem Sokha as a hardliner in comparison to Rainsy, even accusing him at one point of scuttling a potential deal.
Sokha could not be reached for comment yesterday as to whether he was fully satisfied with the CNRP’s decision to modify its rhetoric.
Sar Kheng, speaking to reporters after his meeting with Rainsy, struck an entirely different tone to Hun Sen last week, saying that the two parties “stand on the principle of cooperation to serve people and to promote a culture of dialogue”.
The Interior Minister made only an oblique reference to the recent tensions.
“We are examining the activities of both parties and whether [those activities] are in the framework of the July 22, 2014, agreement or not,” he said.
The two parliamentary leaders plan to meet formally every three months.