Nhek Bun Chhay, who commanded the country’s military under the Funcinpec-led government in the 1990s and now heads the Khmer National United Party (KNUP), was stripped this week of his role as an adviser to the government.
The reason for the decision, announced in a royal decree, was unclear, with a government spokesman claiming he was unaware of the motive. However, it followed the KNUP’s surprise win in Sunday’s commune elections.
The KNUP president and his spokespeople had turned off their phones and couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday.
The decree, which was signed by King Norodom Sihamoni on Sunday and released by government mouthpiece Fresh News on Friday, said: “The royal decree decides to end His Excellency Nhek Bun Chhay’s position as government advisor or equivalent to deputy prime minister.”
A major player in Cambodian politics for the past three decades, Mr. Bun Chhay was put in charge of the country’s military during the Funcinpec-CPP coalition government in 1993, before the latter proved victorious in a factional battle between the two sides that ignited 20 years ago next month.
He was later appointed as a deputy prime minister in 2004, but his title was altered to government adviser in 2013.
Mr. Bun Chhay left Funcinpec to launch the KNUP last year, which became the only party outside of the CPP and CNRP to win a commune in Sunday’s local elections after it was victorious in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok commune.
The usually outspoken leader has gone quiet since his surprise — albeit minor — victory in the commune elections.
His telephones have been switched off and a security guard at his Phnom Penh home this week said authorities had been “making trouble” at his residence during Sunday’s election. The guard did not give his name before asking a reporter to move on.
Despite this, in an interview with Radio Free Asia on Wednesday, Mr. Bun Chhay denied rumors that he was considering a merger with the CNRP.
Contacted on Friday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said he did not know the reason for Mr. Bun Chhay being stripped of his role.
“I don’t know the motive because it’s administrative work,” Mr. Siphan said. “Generally the government has the power to ask for appointments or removals.”