Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday he had advised and aided in the 2007 creation of Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party, and helped other parties previously, including the Sam Rainsy Party.
“Kem Sokha’s party is the party that I helped create. It is true that I helped to create it,” the premier said during a speech at the Royal School of Administration.
“Kem Sokha asked me whether he should keep on with the NGO or form a political party. I could not refuse…so I said yes.”
The premier’s remarks compounded embarrassment created by the May 29 release of recorded telephone conversations from 2007 in which he was heard to give instructions to Mr Sokha. That development appeared to scotch merger plans with the SRP once and for all.
Mr Sokha and his party have strongly denied any connection to the CPP. Pol Ham, spokesman for the HRP, said yesterday that he was unworried and unsurprised by the premier’s remarks.
“It’s nothing new, he can say what he wants to say,” said Mr Ham. “He tries to discredit our image.”
“He uses the same tricks, the old tricks, but the people understand. If the prime minister created the party, why would he tell the people?”
Mr Sokha announced in March 2007 that he would be stepping down as president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights to form the HRP and run in the 2008 national elections.
A former Funcinpec senator, Mr Sokha said at the time that he had been considering forming a political party “for many years” and was returning to politics by popular demand. The HRP won three National Assembly seats, including one for its party leader, in the 2008 election.
During the speech yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said he had assisted other political parties but singled out an incident from 2006 in which he said he advised Sam Rainsy to submit a constitutional amendment reducing the number of lawmakers needed to form a government from two thirds of the National Assembly to 50 percent plus one.
“Every party asks for my advice including Sam Rainsy. He was requesting my advice too…. I told him to write the letter at 10 am, and at 12 pm, he sent it to me.”
Yim Sovann, spokesman for the SRP, insisted there was nothing untoward about the conversations between the premier and Sam Rainsy.
“There is no secret affair between the SRP and the prime minister. In 1998, [and] in 2006, Sam Rainsy used to meet with the prime minister at his house, and also they talked on the phone.”
But, said Mr Sovann, unlike Mr Sokha, Mr Rainsy only discussed topics in the public interest. “The topic is different from what Kem Sokha talked about. [Mr Rainsy] talked about how to protect our country against foreign invaders, how to prevent corruption, how to protect human rights, etc. These are public issues.”
Given last week’s leak of recordings, the claims made in yesterday’s speech were not altogether unforeseen, said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
“This contributes to distrust among the opposition parties. This really [shows] the intention to create distrust among the opposition and also to inform the public,” said Mr Panha.
The bigger issue at hand, he added, is an unequal access to information. While the prime minister can make a speech that will be broadcast across the country, those wishing to oppose the statements have little recourse.
“It’s not just this, but much information will come out before the election. If there were equal access, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal.”