Charges that the Sam Rainsy Party is plotting armed attacks are part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s plan to cripple the opposition while bringing newly appointed royalist Cabinet members under CPP influence, analysts said Monday.
In a speech Sunday, Hun Sen accused the opposition of recruiting a fighting force of some 280 people—an allegation met with skepticism by human rights groups. Instead, analysts said, Hun Sen appeared to be engaging in a power play that could sap members from the opposition while forcing into action royalists such as new co-Minister of Interior Prince Norodom Sirivudh, a close associate of Sam Rainsy, and co-Minister of Defense Nhiek Bun Chhay.
Hun Sen made the charge ments at a ceremony to induct Prince Sirivudh into the Interior Ministry, creating the odd spectacle of a government welcoming a security official who, only a few weeks before, was publicly aligned with the named, so-called rebel group.
Ironically, both Prince Sirivudh and Nhiek Bun Chhay were barred from Phnom Penh at different times in the 1990s for opposing Hun Sen. Neither has commented publicly on Hun Sen’s most recent remarks.
“This is part of Hun Sen’s game plan, to show that Funcinpec is very much in his pocket again,” said one analyst working with local politicians. The analyst doubted police would take action against opposition party members—a move that could jeopardize the international praise Hun Sen won during last year’s riot-free elections.
“I don’t think Hun Sen intends to make a big power play here. But he has managed to break the Alliance and put Funcinpec” under his control, the analyst said.
Apparently aiding the prime minister in that task is Prince Ranariddh, who on Saturday offered government positions to Sam Rainsy Party defectors.
Prince Ranariddh is now trying to woo opposition members hungry for money and status, said Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia. Partnered with the CPP, “they want to destroy the Sam Rainsy Party,” he said.
Hun Sen also appears to have opened a new front against some foreign-funded NGOs, which he said Sunday are overly critical of the government. According to some analysts, Hun Sen may be making a broader grab for power that includes undercutting those NGOs and diminishing the influence of CPP President Chea Sim, who remains in Bangkok at a crucial political moment.
“He will eliminate his rivals one by one. He has already started,” the human rights worker said.
The party has repeatedly denied any split in the ranks, and on Monday CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the party’s Central Committee has no plans to elect a new president at a meeting scheduled for next month.
Regardless of his motives, Hun Sen’s speech Sunday was a disappointment for many looking for government progress, not political infighting, after a nearly year-long deadlock.
Said Kem Sokha, whose Cambodian Center for Human Rights receives most of its funds from the US: “It is a concern that we have a new government set up, and they do nothing for the country first but just attack political parties and NGOs.”