Prime Minister Hun Sen officially introduced three SRP defectors to his ruling CPP on Monday while also warning the opposition party that it will not be a coalition partner following national elections in July.
The prime minister also said that if the SRP were to win a majority of National Assembly seats the CPP would step aside to be the political opposition.
Introducing former SRP lawmakers Ngor Sovann and Sok Pheng along with Chhith Sarith, previously a member of the SRP’s board of directors, Hun Sen said he would protect them from attacks by their former colleagues.
Ngor Sovann and Sok Pheng have received paid positions as government advisers following their recent defections to the CPP, prompting SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang to accuse the ruling party of buying their defections.
But Hun Sen responded that such criticism from the SRP was similar to the language once used during the Khmer Rouge regime.
“I have a duty to protect people’s dignity,” Hun Sen said in a speech at a school inauguration ceremony in Kompong Thom province.
“The lawmakers are not goods and they are not animals,” Hun Sen said, adding that the CPP did not have money to buy defectors from other parties.
“Do not use this issue to hide your weakness,” Hun Sen continued. “You have accused [the defectors] of selling out and this is the cheapest thing to insult a human being with.”
During his speech, Hun Sen also promised that by 2012, there would be a junior high school in every commune in the country. Currently there are 1,304 such schools in the country’s 1,621 communes, he said.
Hun Sen reiterated that his long-standing coalition partner Funcinpec would not be part of the next government unless they won at least one seat in the election, but warned that the SRP would never take their place.
“If [the SRP] win they must do it alone, and the CPP will be the opposition party,” the prime minister said. “If the CPP has enough seats it will form the government alone without any other party,” he added.
SRP President Sam Rainsy on Monday backed up Eng Chhay Eang’s claim that the CPP were buying defectors, but said it would not affect his party’s votes come election time.
“They left for money and positions, not for justice for the people,” Sam Rainsy said.
“The CPP is afraid which is why they are taking a few [senior] SRP members, but there are thousands of CPP members at the grassroots level who have joined with us,” Sam Rainsy said.
Such defections were common in the months leading up to elections, Sam Rainsy said, adding that he had met with commune councilors from Kandal and Kompong Speu provinces yesterday to discuss the defections.
He also pledged to continue traveling around the country to counter the CPP’s tactics.
“I will launch our offensive to draw the CPP supporters to the SRP,” Sam Rainsy vowed.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Monday that Ngor Sovann and Sok Pheng received adviser positions in the government because they had lost their SRP lawmaker salaries.
Khieu Kanharith said such positions carried a $750 per month salary, which the government paid for using a reserve budget.
“It is nothing wrong, we are not that poor,” he said, adding that the CPP does not promise individuals positions in the government before they defect.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia Director Koul Panha said it was unethical of the CPP to reward defectors with government positions.
“I pay taxes to the government, the government should not do this,” Koul Panha said of the new positions for the defectors.
“The government cannot spend lavishly—this is vote buying,” he claimed.