Hun Sen Moves Ahead With ‘Reform’ Plan, Minus Opposition

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday laid out more details in his plan to introduce a series of political reforms after a narrow win for his long-ruling CPP at the polls in July, including creating a new national working group and establishing public forums to gather input in every province starting next month.

Mr. Hun Sen expanded on the plan during a three-and-a-half-hour meeting with top officials from each ministry, behind closed doors inside his office building in Phnom Penh.

Contacted afterward, Sak Setha, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said the meeting was a follow-up to the six-hour speech Mr. Hun Sen delivered at the first meeting of his new Cabinet in late September. During the televised address, the apparently humbled prime minister—just two months after the worst showing for his party at the polls in 20 years—promised unspecified reforms and urged corrupt officials to metaphorically “scrub your body” and “heal our disease.”

“Our national working group will go down to work with the provincial authorities beginning in February. We will hold public forums to discuss with the people in the provinces,” Mr. Setha said. “We think this is a strategy to reform the government.”

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he could not yet provide a list of the members of the new working group, each of whom has been put in charge of a particular province. He said Interior Minister Sar Kheng would be responsible for getting input from Battambang and Prey Veng, Defense Minister Tea Banh from Siem Reap and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An from Takeo.

He said the working group would last for the full five-year term of the newly elected government.

“The national working group will go down to work with the local authorities in the second week of February and we will work until the end of the new mandate,” he said.

That new mandate, however, is for the moment made up of only the CPP and just a little more than half the 123 lawmakers elected in July. The 55 lawmakers-elect of the opposition CNRP are refusing to take their seats until the dispute over the elections—which they accuse the CPP of stealing by rampant vote fraud—are settled.

Because the opposition was staying out of parliament, Mr. Siphan said it was only natural that they were being left out of the new working group on government reform.

“This is their business,” he said as to why the CNRP was not involved. “This is a legal government created by the legal National Assembly, and the National Assembly was created by the King.”

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith said the government, which has used its soldiers and police to violently put down several protests in recent weeks, would not get an honest reading of the public sentiment from the coming forums anyway.

“I think they [Cambodians] will not dare to give their opinion because they are scared,” he said. “If they [the CPP] want to reform the government, they must dare to recognize the truth about what they do.”

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