CPP President Chea Sim’s refusal to authorize a power-sharing deal in the next mandate points to a schism in the famously monolithic party and the deadly force such a conflict could bring about, observers said.
The police force deployed on Norodom Boulevard for a phantom riot Tuesday morning set off rumors that Chea Sim was under house arrest—a rumor dispelled when the Senate president left his compound en route to Phnom Penh International Airport. But CPP officials could not answer the uncomfortable questions raised by Chea Sim’s departure and the muscle flexed by Prime Minister Hun Sen loyalist Hok Lundy, director-general of the National Police.
Chea Sim’s face has appeared on the front page of opposition newspapers almost daily since Hun Sen and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced the end of the parties’ feuding and a new power-sharing formula reached through back-channel talks. That formula gave the CPP president reason for dissatisfaction, observers say, by keeping Hun Sen loyalists in lucrative government positions and denying promotions to his long-time supporters.
It also put Chea Sim at the center of a constitutional debate and at odds with King Norodom Sihanouk, who opted to leave the decision whether to approve the package vote—widely criticized as unconstitutional—to the acting head of state’s “conscience.” Chea Sim in turn passed the decision to Funcinpec’s Nhiek Bun Chhay, second deputy vice president of the Senate, by leaving the country.
“Chea Sim did not want to defy the King,” said one political analyst, noting that Chea Sim has good relations with the King. “And at the same time, [his departure] signals to the prime minister’s faction that, ‘Hey, if you want me to sign this, we have to review the sharing of positions.’”
A second analyst noted that there was more to Chea Sim’s dissatisfaction than the legal debate around the measure.
“Maybe he did listen to his conscience, but it would not have been the first time they broke constitutional law,” he said.
Feuding factions inside the CPP are not new, even as party leaders exert themselves to project an image of fraternity. But most disturbing about Tuesday’s stand-off, observers said, was the force it could bring to bear.
Explaining the police presence, theories of grenade attacks, wild opposition rallies and a recurrence of the anti-Thai riots rang hollow for most observers.
In the end, the deployment of police and attack dogs to Chea Sim’s compound could be seen as an overly aggressive measure against his rebellion, and may require Hun Sen to conduct damage control in the party, said one of the analysts.
Reparations may include reshuffling government positions more in Chea Sim’s favor, now that officials say a meeting of the National Assembly might not arrive until next week.
“Force has been put forward as a threat,” the analyst said. “This may be too much for many people in the party.”