Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday ordered ruling Cambodian People’s Party officials to investigate opposition party members who routinely “insult” the CPP leadership, threatening to suspend a long-sought detente between the two parties if the behaviour did not cease.
The warning shot comes as Cambodia National Rescue Party head Sam Rainsy seeks a meeting with Hun Sen to discuss the country’s land-dispute epidemic.
Hun Sen and Rainsy began a “culture of dialogue” after reaching an agreement in July last year to end a nearly year-long period of political limbo since the 2013 general election.
The two leaders made a highly symbolic public appearance together at the Angkor Archeological Park during Khmer New Year, which royalist Funcinpec party president Prince Norodom Ranariddh lampooned as looking “like a couple on their honeymoon”.
But Hun Sen yesterday made clear that he remained irritated with CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha and other officials who have taken a more hardline stance on the relationship between the two parties.
The culture of dialogue, the premier said, could only continue so long as lower-level opposition officials stopped “insulting” the CPP, which he said was too often the victim of slander.
“Examine from behind the scenes whether or not they [CNRP officials] say our minds are Vietnamese and only our bodies Cambodian, that I am a communist dictator and other slurs. We have to check this because His Excellency Sam Rainsy has announced there should be no insults to one another,” he said.
Hun Sen warned the CNRP last month that the culture of dialogue would be in jeopardy if it did not rein in deputy president Kem Sokha, who has made a number of fiery speeches challenging the CPP in recent months. Rainsy subsequently told the party to temper its rhetoric.
Say Chhum, a veteran CPP politician, was told to lead the inquiry into who was still slandering the CPP.
“I thank those people who supported the culture of dialogue and those in the opposition who do not intend to insult [the CPP] or think of us as rivals or the enemy,” Hun Sen said.
Yem Ponharith, a CNRP spokesman, said that the party agreed with Hun Sen that the culture of dialogue should also be respected throughout the country and at all levels.
On Friday, the opposition issued a statement to local officials ordering them not to resort to insults or threats when campaigning on key party issues, such as sovereignty, illegal immigration, protection of natural resources, judicial reform and corruption.
“We have educated our sub-national authorities to adhere to a high standard of morality of speech and good governance,” Ponharith said. “We need to be transparent and don’t want to see this culture lead to illegal activities where the blame can be placed at the feet of the CNRP.”
Despite causing friction with more hardline party members and supporters, the opposition appears set on continuing cooperation with the ruling party. Rainsy said last week that he was “not afraid to lose some support and voters in the short-term” as a result.
Sokha on Sunday announced that Rainsy was seeking to meet Hun Sen to discuss the resolution of land disputes – an issue the CNRP campaigned on at election time – which he blamed on sub-national government officials who fail to report the truth to their superiors.
Speaking to villagers in Kratie province’s Chhlong district, he said “only the culture of dialogue can address the [land dispute] matters and if it cannot settle them, it will be finished”.
At the same event, Rainsy said he would inform Hun Sen of the “true story” of Cambodia’s land crisis. “Provincial and local authorities are always reporting false information,” he said.