CPP President Chea Sim is presently having a medical checkup in Vietnam and may not return to Cambodia in time for the ruling party’s national congress scheduled to begin Friday in Phnom Penh, his chief bodyguard said Wednesday.
“He has gone for a scheduled checkup in Vietnam, as usual,” said Yim Leang, the chief of Mr. Sim’s bodyguards.
“He is OK…. He has gone to Vietnam for about four or five days,” Mr. Leang said. “It will take a few days. He might not come back on time.”
Defense Minister Tea Banh, a member of the CPP’s standing committee, said he believed Mr. Sim was in fact in Phnom Penh—not in Vietnam—but acknowledged that the ruling party’s president would be too sick to attend the congress.
“His health is very weak, therefore he cannot participate. We are upset since he [is] a gentle person,” he said.
The CPP will on Friday, Saturday and Sunday hold its first national congress since March 2013—a meeting that came four months before the ruling party suffered its worst losses at a national election since the U.N.-run ballot of May 1993.
Gen. Banh said this week’s congress would go ahead despite Mr. Sim’s expected absence.
“It is a party thing, and not a personal thing,” he said. “The party has to do [things] according to its schedule.”
“The party has done its best to somehow give him treatment to somehow make his health better, but we cannot stop the sickness and it is natural that people are born, get old and die,” Gen. Banh said.
“We are upset he cannot attend the congress.”
Mr. Sim, 82, has been the CPP’s president since the ruling party adopted its current name in 1991, but has suffered increasingly poor health. He had a stroke in October 2000, and has often been absent from major party events.
Asked what this weekend’s CPP congress would focus on, Gen. Banh said the party would look to implement Prime Minister Hun Sen’s September 2013 call for its officials to renew the party’s appeal by “scrubbing” themselves of ills.
“We will look into our weak points and improve the weak points like Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] has introduced in his huge policy to look in the mirror and scrub…and wash up—it is very important,” the defense minister said.
Mr. Sim’s likely absence from the CPP congress comes shortly after he missed the party’s annual January 7 celebrations to mark the fall of Pol Pot’s regime in 1979, which is considered by Mr. Sim’s party to be Cambodia’s rebirth.
Since 1991, Mr. Hun Sen has served as Mr. Sim’s vice president in the CPP, with National Assembly President Heng Samrin, who officially led the communist party in the 1980s, today serving as the CPP’s ceremonial “honorary president.”
Mr. Sim and Mr. Hun Sen have since the communist 1980s faced rumors that they are leaders of rival factions, with Interior Minister Sar Kheng more recently replacing Mr. Sim in such speculation.
Yet the CPP has for decades denied rumors of a split, and has mostly presented a united front to the public.
“As long as Samdech Chea Sim is the party president, Hun Sen will not [claim to lead the CPP]…and as long as Hun Sen is the prime minister, other members will not challenge the premiership,” Mr. Hun Sen said at the CPP’s 1997 congress. “So any imagination about a split in the CPP is inaccurate.”
However, CPP officials have said that Mr. Hun Sen will replace Mr. Sim as the party’s president when the time comes. Earlier this month, Mr. Hun Sen signed off on a letter to Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh as “acting CPP president.”