Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday threatened to call a parliamentary vote to remove opposition party second-in-command Kem Sokha from his role as vice president of the country’s legislature if he continues to lob accusations at the ruling party.
Hun Sen warned that lawmakers from his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) could easily strip the vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) of his title in the National Assembly, or parliament, as the ruling party controls a majority of seats in the legislature.
“I sent a text message to [CNRP president] Sam Rainsy that [his party] shouldn’t be so proud—the culture of dialogue requires mutual respect,” the prime minister said, referring to efforts by the two sides to cooperate since signing an agreement in July which ended a nearly year-long political deadlock.
“The CPP brought you up, but it can also bring you down,” he said.
Hun Sen’s warning followed a report in the Phnom Penh Post which quoted Kem Sokha alleging that the CPP was attempting to divide the CNRP’s leaders, “because if our group is split, we are very weak.”
“Now, [the CPP is] trying hard to break Sam Rainsy from Kem Sokha … [but they] are one, and the only goal is to rescue the nation,” he said.
Over the weekend, Kem Sokha called on Sam Rainsy, who is traveling in the U.S., to use the “culture of dialogue” to push the CPP to reform Cambodia’s judiciary, and also cautioned opposition supporters that the CNRP could lose the next election—scheduled for February 2018—if the party lacks unity.
Kem Sokha refused to comment on Hun Sen’s threat when contacted by RFA Khmer Service Tuesday, but the CNRP vice president has previously said that the opposition party has the right to constructively criticize the government.
Sam Rainsy earlier this month ordered the opposition, including Kem Sokha, to avoid threats against the CPP after Hun Sen in April complained that the party’s use of inflammatory language went against the July 22 agreement that ended a 10-month CNRP boycott of parliament.
The boycott followed disputed elections in July 2013 which kept the CPP in power amid allegations of government control of the National Election Commission, which oversees the nation’s polls.
No legal basis
Political analyst Ros Ravuth told RFA that Hun Sen’s threat to call a vote to strip Kem Sokha of his role in parliament has no legal basis.
“I see no clause in the constitution that allows National Assembly members to strip the body’s deputy president of his position—only one which grants that power to permanent committee members and the National Assembly president,” he said.
CPP member Heng Samrin is the current president of the National Assembly.
Hun Sen and Kem Sokha have frequently traded political barbs.
In March, Hun Sen alleged that Kem Sokha was the mastermind of a plot to topple his government following the 2013 national elections, saying the CNRP vice president was a “leader of second and third hands”—a reference to a group of people who he said want to overthrow the CPP government.
He said Kem Sokha had unveiled plans to overthrow the government during a speech earlier that month in Long Beach, California, where he met with his supporters and said the CNRP wanted to lead the government, but could not because of the CPP’s stronghold.
Kem Sokha denied that he had made any statements about overthrowing the government and said Hun Sen had made the allegations as part of a bid to split the CNRP.
Reported by Khe Sonorng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.