Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is set to join Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Angkor Archaelogical Park to attend Khmer New Year festivities together for the first time after being invited by the prime minister’s son, Hun Many.
The invitation from Many – who heads the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, which organises the annual event – came just a day after Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Kem Sokha was brought before a judge for questioning over alleged incitement of demonstrators following the 2013 election.
While analysts said the move was a display of unity in tense times, Sokha, perhaps unsurprisingly, received no invitation to attend, according to one party official who requested anonymity.
Hun Sen yesterday sought to dismiss the notion that Sokha’s questioning was politically motivated, but the premier did appear to notice the discrepancy between his and Rainsy’s much-vaunted “culture of dialogue” and his ongoing attacks on Sokha.
“The proceedings of the court are a separate issue and not related to the culture of dialogue,” Hun Sen, who has publicly called on the court to take action against Sokha, said.
He added, however, that the two leaders had in fact discussed Sokha’s case and that a “package of law and politics” had been proposed, though he did not elaborate.
“I would like to praise the [court’s] effort to enforce procedure according to the rule of law. We cannot interfere with the power of the court,” he said. “This affair is a story about the court and Kem Sokha, not a story about Hun Sen and His Excellency Sam Rainsy.”
Sokha’s lawyer, Meng Sopheary, said yesterday that she was not sure if the court would drop its case against him.
“We have not yet received a letter from the court, so we don’t know whether or not the court has ended the case. The court has just said that it finished its questioning,” he added.
Ly Sophana, deputy prosecutor of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, who summonsed Sokha for a seven-hour questioning session on Wednesday, declined to comment.
In an email, Rainsy said his and Hun Sen’s Siem Reap trip was “a message of Khmer unity to the nation on the occasion of the Cambodian New Year”.
Ou Virak, president of the Future Forum think-tank, said that whether Sokha was invited to accompany Rainsy and Hun Sen was irrelevant compared with the so-called culture of dialogue, which he said was “undemocratic”.
“In democratic countries, a ‘culture of dialogue’ means a culture of competition. It’s not supposed to be sweet-talking,” he said, adding that the court had acted as a political tool of Hun Sen over Sokha’s questioning.
Ouk Serei Sopheak, a freelance consultant on governance issues, said the court case “could be a warning shot” from Hun Sen to pressure Sokha to “soften his stance” on the negotiations between the two parties.
Attending the Khmer New Year celebrations together could provide a good platform to smooth relations, he added.
“It is a high-profile meeting in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people . . . to send a strong message of unity, of national solidarity, and perhaps also to smooth out the Kem Sokha issue . . . For me, I think it is good that the two leaders have such a popular time to talk about serious issues.”
Hun Sen was not attempting to exacerbate any existing divisions within the CNRP, as the premier realises that outside interference would only draw the two opposition leaders closer together, he said.
“I think that [the ruling Cambodian People’s Party] and the prime minister have already realised that the unity between Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha is a political unity, so it’s very difficult to destroy.
“If there is any disunity, this will come from inside the CNRP itself . . . which I don’t see now.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON