Military, Police Top Brass Get Party Promotions

The ruling CPP welcomed 306 new members to its central committee on the final day of its party congress Sunday, injecting a heavy dose of fresh blood into the upper ranks of the party, which nearly lost its decades-long grip on power in the last national elections.

The additions more than double the size of the central committee to 545 members, and include some of the country’s top military and police officials, as well as all three of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sons.

Speaking with reporters at the close of the congress, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith boasted of adding 45 women to the central committee and 70 “young” members under the age of 50.

Of the 268 members on the central committee list heading into the congress on Friday, 27 had died since it last convened in 2013, one resigned and another was kicked out.

“We had to add them because the old ones are getting old and dying,” Mr. Kanharith said. “We need to select the youth because 50 percent of the country is under the age of 30, so we selected youth with some experience…. We need successors with enough capacity.”

He said the party made no changes to its more exclusive standing and permanent committees, and that the ailing chairman of the central committee, Senate President Chea Sim, who missed the congress because he was getting medical treatment in Vietnam, had retained his seat.

Mr. Kanharith would not name any of the central committee’s new members.

But according to a full list posted online by a local Khmer-language newspaper, the list includes all three of the prime minister’s sons and a number of military and police heavyweights.

The list includes Chhay Sinarith, who heads the Interior Ministry’s powerful internal security department; Hing Bunheang, commander of the prime minister’s personal bodyguard unit; Touch Naruth, head of the Interior Ministry’s bodyguard unit; deputy national police chief Mok Chito; Phnom Penh police chief Chuon Sovann; and Phnom Penh military police commander Rath Srieng.

Their additions are likely to fuel criticism from the opposition and rights groups that the CPP is further tightening its grip on an already politicized military and police force more committed to protecting the ruling party than the people.

Some of the new names on the central committee were at the forefront of the government’s sometimes bloody suppression of opposition and garment worker protests in the wake of the 2013 national elections.

The congress, the CPP’s first since its near loss in those elections, was full of talk of the party’s need to learn from the experience and reform. Mr. Kanharith was short on details on what those reforms would be. He mentioned upcoming raises for civil servants and garment workers, and called on national and local government offices to hire more young people and take to Facebook and Twitter to promote their work.

He attributed the opposition’s strong showing in the last election to the 2012 merger of the country’s main opposition parties to form the CNRP.

“Our seats decreased because the other party has joined together, so it has a lot of seats. Therefore now we check the lacking points to strengthen and set strategy to move forward,” he said.

“If the party does not unite, it will not endure the storm,” he added.

A leaked report the CPP handed out to members on the first day of the congress was more frank about the party’s problems, identifying them as including everything from corruption and nepotism to the abuse of power, a lack of popular faith in the judicial system and a deeply unequal society.

Despite the rare honesty, political observer Kem Ley said, the CPP would fail to follow through with the fundamental reforms it needs to win a free and fair election no matter how many people it adds to its central committee, so long as the same people hold on to the top jobs.

“The institutional culture…has not adapted,” he said. “Even with many more members, they just take instructions from the top…. They just learn from the old people, the old culture.”

A frequent government critic, Mr. Ley launched a reform group last year that aims to create a host of new grassroots political parties across the country in time for the next elections.

He said expanding the committee would change nothing unless the new members had the power to change the party from within.

“But they just put the [new members] in a prison without walls,” he said. “They have no freedom to say what they want.”

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, who recently joined the opposition as an adviser to CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha, said expanding the central committee was more than anything about keeping the CPP united, encouraging its younger members to stay loyal by bringing them into the fold and keeping the elders happy by letting them hang on.

“Nobody loses this way,” Mr. Mong Hay said.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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