The National Assembly voted Monday to replace 10 senior Funcinpec officials in a move that Prime Minister Hun Sen likened to ridding the government of “decayed wood.”
But political observers said the vote ousted Funcinpec officials loyal to embattled party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and replaced them with royalists in greater favor with Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.
Of the 110 lawmakers who attended the vote to replace the nine Funcinpec secretaries of state and one Funcinpec senior minister, 104 voted in favor, two voted against, three abstained, while one vote was spoiled.
Hun Sen, who first proposed the removals last month and attended the Assembly vote, delivered some words of his own brand of wisdom before the ballots were cast.
“The old proverb says, don’t sharpen decayed wood,” Hun Sen told the Assembly.
“If we still try to sharpen the decayed wood, it would be sharp but we cannot use it. It’s not only me; others have the same thoughts.”
Hun Sen then expressed his “passion” for poverty reduction and said the Funcinpec officials being removed were not qualified to help the government achieve its aim.
The lawmakers then voted to replace Funcinpec Senior Minister Serei Kosal with Ly Thuch. Funcinpec’s Nouv Sovathero and Srey Channy were voted to replace Chea Chanboribo and Hor Sopheap at the Information Ministry and Sieng Kimhan replaced Nuth Nin Doeun in the Ministry of Tourism.
In the Justice Ministry, Meach Sam An replaced Tout Lux and Chan Huon replaced Kassie Neou, who quit his political career several weeks ago.
Heng Bo replaced Sok San in the Labor Ministry while Sin Bo replaced Tann Siphann in the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology. Chan Nora replaced Nge Chhay Leang in the Commerce Ministry, while Tea Then replaced Pok Than in the Education Ministry.
Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay, who along with Hun Sen led the new royalist appointees out of the Assembly after the vote, said he was pleased with the outcome.
“I am happy to see that three political parties voted to support [the appointments],” Nhiek Bun Chhay told reporters outside the Assembly.
Nhiek Bun Chhay claimed later by telephone that the removals did not conflict with the wishes of Prince Ranariddh, who in late September called on Funcinpec lawmakers to boycott such a vote.
Prince Ranariddh has changed his mind, Nhiek Bun Chhay said, but admitted that the prince still does not agree with the removals.
“The prince understands,” he added.
Several Funcinpec officials have publicly accused Nhiek Bun Chhay of cozying up to the CPP. Nhiek Bun Chhay has denied the allegation.
Ok Socheat, Prince Ranariddh’s public affairs adviser, said the prince opposes the appointments, but believes it is up to the lawmakers to decide what they want to vote for.
“I don’t support the vote. The officials removed are more qualified than the newcomers and they were loyal to Prince Norodom Ranariddh,” Ok Socheat said.
Prince Ranariddh’s spokesman Chea Chanboribo, who was one of the 10 officials removed, said he was not disheartened by the vote to remove him.
Chea Chanboribo also said that he had no interest in “lucrative positions” in government, and would now work for the good of Funcinpec.
Serei Kosal said he should not have been removed and that he was adequately qualified for his job.
“I fulfilled my duty,” Serei Kosal said, adding that Prince Ranariddh opposes the new appointments.
Taking over Serei Kosal’s post, Ly Thuch thanked Hun Sen and the parliament for voting him into his senior minister position.
“The prime minister has the right to choose qualified people like in any other country in the world,” Ly Thuch said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the vote proved that Funcinpec has fractured: one group is cooperating with the CPP and one is keeping its distance.
“The prince is not happy,” he said.
(Additional reporting by James Welsh)