Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay believes the party’s top committee “will not hesitate” to issue an apology to the ruling CPP in the face of angry threats from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
On Monday, another party vice president, Thach Setha, was arrested over bouncing checks, a week after senior adviser Kong Korm faced a series of lawsuits over a speech suggesting links between Vietnam and the founding of Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.
In response, Candlelight had issued a statement Wednesday demanding the ruling party ends its pressure, threats and political persecution.
But Hun Sen took exception to this statement on Thursday morning, launching into a heated speech that Candlelight was besmirching the “honor and dignity” of the CPP. He said the lawsuits were not political, and threatened more lawsuits or violence if Candlelight did not apologize.
Reached Thursday afternoon, Chhay said Candlelight had made mistakes.
“In this phase there have been some difficulties among both our colleagues and the way we prepared ourselves to adjust a new way of working without using any words that can impact or disrupt the feelings of parties, especially the ruling party, so we still have some mistakes, and we pay attention to the advice from the ruling party, especially from the premier,” Chhay said.
Asked twice whether the party would issue an apology, Chhay said Candlelight’s permanent committee would decide.
“I think the party will not hesitate when we see that our statement may have impacted the feelings of the CPP, which rules the government.”
The party had already taken down its earlier statement, Chhay added.
“I would like to inform you that after receiving information that samdech prime minister was unhappy with yesterday’s statement, the party has already removed the statement from the party media outlet,” he said. “It is not difficult to express our mistake toward the CPP, and we will prepare somehow to compromise with each other to end this issue as soon as possible.”
Following Hun Sen’s morning speech, the CPP also issued a statement that Candlelight had “seriously affected the integrity and dignity of the Cambodian People’s Party.”
“The Cambodian People’s Party cannot accept the insults and arbitrary accusations of the Candlelight Party. The CPP will do everything under the law to protect itself from being abused,” it said.
The Candlelight Party emerged last year as the country’s only viable opposition party, winning 22% of the vote in the 2022 commune election.
Cambodia’s main opposition party, the CNRP, was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2017, and its main leaders are now in exile or on trial. The ruling CPP won all 125 National Assembly seats in 2018 without a serious challenger.
Hun Sen has raised the heat of his political rhetoric in recent weeks, about six months ahead of a national election in July. He has also publicly spoken of selecting his eldest son, Hun Manet, as his successor, though a timeframe for a handover has not been announced.