In an apparent sign of warming relations between the ruling CPP and the SRP, Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition party leader Sam Rainsy shared a rare public chat on Wednesday at Phnom Penh International Airport.
Sam Rainsy said that Prince Ranariddh was the topic of his rather lengthy and jovial conversation with Hun Sen at the airport, where both leaders were seeing off King Norodom Sihamoni, retired King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath, who all departed for Beijing.
“Samdech Hun Sen showed me a letter sent by Prince Norodom Ranariddh saying that he would assign You Hockry to negotiate with the CPP,” Sam Rainsy said by telephone later Wednesday.
According to the letter presented by Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh claimed that Hun Sen asked the prince to designate a person to negotiate with the CPP. You Hockry is currently the Norodom Ranariddh Party’s Secretary-General.
“Samdech [Hun Sen] was disappointed that the prince had invented this story; he is suspicious of the prince,” Sam Rainsy said.
Hun Sen, he added, said he had not requested a negotiator and had no interest in dealing with the prince.
NRP spokesman Muth Channtha denied that Prince Ranariddh—who has recently made calls for a mass movement of political parties to oppose the ruling CPP in the next election—had written to Hun Sen.
“[Hun Sen] should show the letter to the public to reveal the content of the statement,” Muth Channtha said.
Funcinpec President Keo Puth Rasmey, who was on hand at the airport for a portion of the conversation, said that he had also seen the letter and confirmed its contents.
Keo Puth Rasmey added: “We had a good environment this morning between the three leaders. It is good for our country.”
Relations between the SRP and CPP have been less fractious since Sam Rainsy met behind closed doors with Hun Sen in February 2006 after returning from a year in exile.
In August, Sam Rainsy made an unprecedented announcement that his party would entertain the possibility of a CPP-SRP coalition following the 2008 election. That topic was not discussed Wednesday but Sam Rainsy did say that the “culture of hatred” between the CPP and SRP was long since over.
“[Hun Sen and I] have discussed many issues; we have exchanged information with each other. I also talked with [Senate President] Chea Sim and [National Assembly President] Heng Samrin—his is a rare chance,” Sam Rainsy said.
“As democrats, we might have different ideas but we don’t want to eliminate each other. We are competitors, not enemies,” he added.
Muth Channtha said that Sam Rainsy—who has rejected Prince Ranariddh’s call to join together to take on the CPP—had sold out to the ruling party. “When the SRP loses the election, the party will join the CPP, then Hun Sen will be [Sam Rainsy’s] boss,” he said.
“When someone wants power they don’t care about the national interest,” he added.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that there has been a definite change of tactics by the SRP, which likely reflect the realities of reaching out to the Cambodian electorate.
“The SRP does not use strong language to criticize the government. Khmers cannot accept such strongly worded criticism,” he said.
“The Sam Rainsy Party might think that they cannot initiate radical change, for now they can just seek reform.”