Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent appointment as head of the National Authority on Border Affairs has been met with mixed reaction by both officials and ordinary Cambodians, according to an informal poll conducted in recent days.
Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay said Wednesday that appointing Hun Sen sole head of the authority was a superfluous gesture because the Supreme National Council on Border Affairs, headed by retired King Norodom Sihanouk, was already in a good position to solve border issues.
“The supreme council decides and the government implements,” is how Son Chhay said he thought border issues should be resolved. “What we are doing now…it shows division” on border issues, he said.
Lao Mong Hay, of the Center for Social Development, suggested the best solution was finding a system that would allow Hun Sen and the retired King to work together.
“The head of the government is responsible for national affairs,” he said, but “the retired King has popular support.”
To harness the premier’s power to the retired King’s popularity, the government should appoint Norodom Sihanouk as a special envoy on border issues, he said. The retired King would be able to use his considerable expertise to advise Hun Sen on border issues, but the prime minister would have the final say on border decisions.
He admitted, however, that this ideal solution in theory would be politically fraught in reality.
“Both men do not seem to trust each other,” he said. “The key is trust between the two.”
When asked about the border issue, several ordinary Cambodians offered their opinions though several feared giving their names, especially in the wake of the premier’s angry words against those who sought to use the border issue to destabilize his power.
While nearly all agreed that Hun Sen has the power to decide border issues, not all believed that he could deliver.
“I believe 50 to 60 percent that the government has the will to solve border issues,” said Suon Sambath, 54, a part-time investigator for a local NGO and motorbike taxi driver.
“If Hun Sen works on it like [he works on] building schools, roads…I believe him 100 percent.”
Others were less sanguine. “The border issue cannot be solved until the UN comes back,” said Dy Chanthoeun, 34.