CPP and Senate President Chea Sim made his first public remarks Thursday since the formation of the government, one day after taking part in a public show of unity among CPP heavyweights meant to quell rumors of intra-party strife.
In a short keynote address to an annual conference of monks at Chaktomuk Conference Hall, Chea Sim sidestepped his abrupt departure to Thailand earlier this month and questions of factional fighting within the CPP sparked by his mysterious journey.
Though party officials said at the time that his police-escorted trip to Bangkok was for medical treatments, Chea Sim told reporters Thursday that he was in good health.
“I am healthy. I will survive to be 100 years old,” he said in response to a question after the speech.
He declined to take any more questions and left the conference hall, where roughly 50 bodyguards, police and military police officers were deployed.
On Wednesday night, viewers of the state-run television network TVK were treated to an unexpected display of CPP unity when the network interrupted its regular broadcast to televise an intimate gathering of the CPP’s major players.
The five-minute video clip began by showing Prime Minister Hun Sen arriving at the Daun Penh district home of Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, where Chea Sim, Honorary CPP President Heng Samrin, RCAF Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan, CPP Secretary-General Say Chhum, Cabinet Chief Sok An and National Police Chief Hok Lundy were already gathered.
After a few minutes of genial mingling among the party leaders, the camera cut to the group gathered around a dining room table laden with a sumptuous feast.
A smiling Hun Sen and Chea Sim sat across the table from one another and clinked their glasses, as Sar Kheng made a toast inaudible to the viewing audience. An off-camera commentator narrated the events.
The feast was in celebration of the anniversary of the July 27, 2003, elections, said dinner guest and Defense co-Minister Tea Banh, who reiterated the party’s unified stance on Thursday.
“I respect Samdech Chea Sim as the CPP president. We don’t have any conflict in the party. We have strong commitment and unity,” he said Thursday.
Televising the gathering was necessary to disprove the rumors of strife, said Information Minister Khieu Kanharith.
“This is the first time we broadcast the feast, to deny rumors that the CPP is fragile,” he said.
Other viewers, however, were skeptical of the chummy soiree, calling it a staged show of camaraderie. “This is a drama to show the public that they can unite,” Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Thursday.
Chea Sim was scheduled to approve a controversial legal measure on the day he left the country, causing some to speculate that he had been planning to refuse to sign off on the vote.
Kem Sokha said he was suspicious of Chea Sim’ prolonged silence and brief remarks since the formation of the government.
“I think that Chea Sim has a plan in his mind. That is why he doesn’t react” to Hun Sen’s professions of unity.
Opposition leader Eng Chhay Eang also criticized the show.
“They cannot hide the truth,” he said Thursday. “They invited Chea Sim to the feast just because they want to cure the rift in the party.”
Khieu Kanharith dismissed the criticism, saying the opposition party and rights worker were “ashamed” of having made false predictions about the party’s unity.
On Tuesday, Hun Sen issued a public statement, denying any rift in the CPP and accusing the opposition party of planting rumors to sow dissent in the ruling party.