Prime Minister Hun Sen chastised Information Minister Khieu Kanharith on Tuesday for publicly questioning his appointment of a new state television boss, saying he had every right to fill the position and blaming Mr. Kanharith for failing to pick up his telephone.
The unusual public squabble between senior ruling party officials began after King Norodom Sihamoni issued a royal decree on Saturday replacing Kem Gunawadh as head of the state-run Television of Kampuchea (TVK) with Khim Vuthy, a station deputy director.
The move apparently surprised Mr. Kanharith, who posted a status update on his Facebook page saying he had not been consulted. “Why didn’t I know about this appointment?” he asked. “Where did this appointment come from?”
On Tuesday, Mr. Hun Sen hit back with a series of questions on his own Facebook page alongside documents showing the prime minister overriding Mr. Kanharith’s pick to replace Mr. Gunawadh, who the documents said is slated to retire at the end of September.
“Does the prime minister have the right to reject the request from a minister to appoint a new official?” Mr. Hun Sen asked. “Does the prime minister have the right to choose an official to replace the official whom he didn’t agree with? Is it necessary for the prime minister to sit and wait to discuss with the minister who could not be reached after five telephone calls?”
One letter included in the post, dated March 23, shows Mr. Kanharith formally asking Public Functions Minister Pich Bunthin to appoint Khvay Atitya, also a deputy director at TVK, as Mr. Gunawadh’s replacement beginning in October.
A second document with the same date shows Mr. Bunthin putting the request to Mr. Hun Sen, who handwrote “not approved, request to appoint Khim Vuthy instead,” followed by his signature.
A document dated June 8 from the prime minister to the king requests Mr. Vuthy take the director position, with a royal decree dated June 10 approving Mr. Vuthy’s appointment.
“Do you have eyes to read the royal decree that states, ‘Based on the request from Prime Minister Hun Sen?’” Mr. Hun Sen asked in the post. “With no request from the prime minister, the king also would not have approved” the appointment.
The premier referred people to an article about the appointment of Mr. Vuthy in the Khmer-language section of Tuesday’s Cambodia Daily to see Mr. Kanharith’s Facebook status, and posted an image of the article with the information minister’s comments highlighted in pink.
Reached on Tuesday on Facebook, Mr. Kanharith said he bore no ill will toward the prime minister over the post.
“He is my boss. Why should I [be] angry with him?” he wrote, without responding to later questions.
Cham Bunthet, a political analyst and policy adviser to the fledgling Grassroots Democracy Party, said it was bad politics for such senior officials to fight publicly.
“You need to stay unified,” he said. “People, especially in the grassroots, may not understand the approach you are taking.”
Maybe Mr. Kanharith, 65, “is getting tired, frustrated, wants to leave,” he said, suggesting that the spat could also serve as a distraction from more serious issues, like the ongoing recounts of some commune election ballots.
“I think more likely it is a distraction than internal problems,” he said. “But we do not know.”
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Byrne and Ben Paviour)