Government Spokesman Says Kem Sokha Is a Communist

A spokesman for the government on Thursday released a 20-minute video monologue accusing deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha of secretly harboring a “communist” tendency, only days after Mr. Sokha used the same word to describe the ruling CPP.

Keo Remy, a former opposition lawmaker who now serves as a mouthpiece for the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit (PQRU), said the outwardly pro-poor political rhetoric espoused by Mr. Sokha’s opposition party makes him more communist than the CPP.

“The deputy president of the CNRP went to meet with some people, and said things that exaggerated the truth,” Mr. Remy says at the beginning of the video, which was posted to the PQRU’s website Thursday. “He used words that the government and the CPP’s leaders are communists and dictators.”

Mr. Remy then explains that communism, “as an economic term,” pertains to state control of prices and industry, before rejecting Mr. Sokha’s classification.

“We implement the free market…and the people can do business freely,” Mr. Remy says. “It has been the government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen in particular that has provided opportunities to the Cambodian people to compete in business, freely and without pressure.

“The opposition’s idea is to hate rich people, and to cut the rich down to be equally poor to other poor,” he says. “The leaders of the opposition party always use propaganda on people and stoke the anger of the people and workers to hate the rich people and employers.

“These concepts are communist concepts.”

Mr. Sokha’s CNRP has over the past two years garnered support by calling on a reluctant CPP to introduce policies including rent control for garment workers, as well as significant minimum wage increases.

Mr. Sokha could not be reached Thursday but his cabinet chief, Muth Chantha, said that he believed Mr. Remy’s video would have little success in convincing people that Mr. Sokha’s economic policies are communist.

“The Cambodian people have experienced many regimes and many leaders who are communist, and understand well who are the communists and who are the democrats. Kem Sokha is a democrat,” Mr. Chantha said.

“The CNRP wants to have rules and laws to help Cambodians have a good living. We are not going to have central planning or communism. It is very different.”

Mr. Sokha described the CPP as “communist” during a rally in Kompong Chhnang province on Monday afternoon, pointing to the CPP’s roots as the single party of the 1980s People’s Republic of Kampuchea.

That regime was also led by Prime Minister Hun Sen and many of the most senior figures in the present government, and transformed itself into the modern CPP in order to contest the 1993 U.N.-led elections.

Mr. Remy—like many of the leaders of the CNRP—has his political roots in the resistance to that regime, having entered the scene in the 1980s as an activist on the side of those opposing the communists.

He became a lawmaker for the Funcinpec party after the 1998 national election and then defected to the Sam Rainsy Party shortly before the 2003 national election, serving as an opposition lawmaker.

When Mr. Sokha founded his Human Rights Party in April 2007, Mr. Remy again defected and became Mr. Sokha’s vice president before defecting to the CPP in October 2008, later becoming a PQRU spokesman.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, another member of the CPP who joined the party after its transformation in 1991, said Mr. Sokha’s continued use of the word “communist” to describe the CPP is anachronistic.

“Some people make this accusation but they do not understand what ‘communism’ means,” said Mr. Siphan, who was an anti-communist commando for the U.S.-backed Khmer Republic in the early 1970s.

Mr. Siphan spent the 1980s living in the U.S. and returned to Cambodia after the 1993 election as one of the few Cambodian-Americans to openly support the CPP.

“The CPP is a transitional party,” he said. “They fought the Khmer Rouge and became socialist at a time when the world did not support or recognize the party.

“They tried to bring the country together and make reforms. Now the CPP carries out policies of decentralization. We support the free-market, a free press and free elections. The CPP is removed from communism.

“It is Kem Sokha who is a communist. He does not support decentralization,” Mr. Siphan said.

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