Ruling Cambodian People’s Party president Chea Sim has died at the age of 82.
Yim Leang, chief of Sim’s personal bodyguard unit, confirmed that the aging Senate president and long-time president of the CPP died on Monday afternoon at about 3:45pm.
“Yes, he died,” Yim Leang said, without elaborating on the cause of his death.
According to Leang, Prime Minister Hun Sen and other high-ranking government officials arrived at Chea Sim’s house shortly after his death to pay their respects.
Hun Sen in April announced that he would assume the party presidency in the event that Sim died.
“We wish Samdech Chea Sim to be in good health and live a long life even if he cannot work, and he will be president of the CPP and Senate [as long as he lives],” he said at the time.
Sim had led a powerful faction within the CPP that was often at odds with Hun Sen and his supporters, but party insiders have of late spoken of Sim’s role as little more than symbolic.
In 2004, he was escorted out of the country after refusing to sign off as acting head of state on constitutional changes that would pave the way for the CPP and Funcinpec to form a coalition government under a deal between Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
It was the first major public display of infighting within the party and a turning point in the power struggle between Hun Sen and Sim, analysts said. Since then, Hun Sen has continued to replace Sim loyalists with his preferred candidates for important positions.
Sim was conspicuously absent from the party’s 63rd anniversary celebrations last June, following years in which age and illness have forced him to take a back seat and receive medical care in Vietnam.
At the anniversary event, Hun Sen was publicly referred to as “acting CPP president” for the first time.
In recent months, Sim’s signature has continued to appear on documents passed by the Senate, of which he was also president. But CPP insiders have previously said that Senate First President Say Chhum, whom Hun Sen tapped to replace Sim in the senatorial role, was conducting his work there in practice.