Phnom Penh’s political landscape shifted yet again on Friday with the unexpected appointment of former Phnom Penh governor Chea Sophara to be one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal advisers.
“Appointed: Chea Sophara as personal adviser to Samdech Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Cambodia [with] a rank equal to minister,” read a Royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihanouk on Thursday.
Chea Sophara’s promotion follows his apparent demotion on Monday when he was fired as governor and reassignmed as the next ambassador to Burma.
Chea Sophara’s removal has been roundly criticized by his former colleagues at City Hall, some CPP officials and particularly by ordinary people in Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen’s apparent backpedaling on his handling of Chea Sophara—whose removal was interpreted as punishment for the recent anti-Thai riots but denied as such by the premier—coincided on Thursday with claims by National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh that the ruling CPP is suffering “internal problems.”
Prince Ranariddh also criticized Hun Sen for not informing him before he shuffled the Phnom Penh governor position—a post that was allotted to his Funcinpec party following the 1998 election but never occupied by a royalist member.
“When [Hun Sen] made this reshuffle he did not ask about my opinion or let me know. He should have made a telephone call to me or send a message to me,” the prince said in interview with Radio Free Asia.
Chea Sophara departed Phnom Penh for Paris on Thursday night, reportedly for a health checkup.
A foreign diplomat said Friday it now remains to be seen if Hun Sen will carry through and send Chea Sophara to Burma.
The diplomat said by appointing Chea Sophara his adviser, Hun Sen has moved to mitigate the massive “loss of face” the former governor has suffered.
Hun Sen is also attempting some “damage control” for his ruling CPP, which is likely to pay heavily in Phnom Penh at election time for the removal of the popular city governor, the diplomat said.