The National Assembly on Thursday promoted CPP Tourism Ministry Secretary of State Thong Khon to the position of tourism minister, and voted a brother of Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay into the post he vacated.
Prime Minister Hun Sen made a rare visit to the Assembly and introduced both candidates prior to the poll. Lawmakers responded by casting 82 votes in favor of the appointments, eight against, with six abstentions and nine invalid ballots.
The vote secures Thong Khon’s position at the top of the Tourism Ministry, which he has headed in a temporary capacity since the government’s surprise removal on May 9 of Funcinpec’s tourism minister Lay Prohas.
Nhiek Kim Chhun, Nhiek Bun Chhay’s older brother, takes up the position of tourism ministry secretary of state after previously serving as Battambang’s deputy provincial governor.
“This appointment is only to strengthen the efficiency of the government institution,” Hun Sen said of Thong Khon’s promotion.
“Tourism is a priority for the government…so we should not have to wait until 2008,” he said, referring to the date of the next national election.
Thong Khon told the Assembly that he would work hard to attract more tourists and more direct flights to Cambodia from the Middle East, Japan, India and Beijing.
Lay Prohas could not be reached for comment.
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said his party had been told Lay Prohas was removed because Hun Sen was unable to work “effectively and actively” with him.
Nouv Sovathero said Nhiek Kim Chhun was decided upon after discussion at the “highest level of the party.” It was felt that Nhiek Kim Chhun was capable of handling the job and would be able to get along with Hun Sen, he said.
He denied that Nhiek Kim Chhun’s relationship with Nhiek Bun Chhay was the determining factor in his job promotion.
Although the public sometimes views Funcinpec as being nepotistic, this is simply not the case, Nouv Sovathero added.
“The politics, the reality, is very different,” he added.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith wrote in an e-mail that despite the removal of Lay Prohas he was not considered by the government to be unfit for the minister position.
Contacted by telephone, Khieu Kanharith said Hun Sen has made it clear that if he has to remove a Funcinpec minister, he will replace them with a CPP official.
The CPP and Funcinpec “can share the secretary of state positions or things like that,” he added.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay decried Thursday’s vote, which packaged both promotions together on a single ballot.
Son Chhay said the vote was likely handled in this manner because the ruling party was confident that Thong Khon, who has many years of experience at the ministry, would earn enough votes, but the comparatively inexperienced Nhiek Kim Chhun might not have been able to muster enough support.
Son Chhay said that it did not make sense to put forward “a candidate with no experience” in tourism when the government urgently needs qualified people at the ministry.