Ex-Opposition Senator Gets Government Position After Return From Exile

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Youth activists and monks sit and chant in a memorial ceremony on July 8, 2020 near the Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh where political analyst Kem Ley was murdered four years ago. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)

A former opposition senator has been appointed to a government position after returning from exile in Sweden, where she was evading an 18-month prison sentence for accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of ordering the assassination of political analyst Kem Ley.

Thak Lany, once a senator for the Sam Rainsy Party, was sentenced in 2016 for defamation and incitement over a video in which she appeared to say that Hun Sen was behind Ley’s killing earlier that year. Ley, a political analyst, was shot while drinking his morning coffee at the Caltex gas station on the corner of Monivong and Mao Tse Toung boulevards.

According to a royal decree dated June 12, King Norodom Sihamoni appointed Thak Lany as secretary of state of the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations. The decree says the appointment was made based on a request from Hun Sen.

Lany, who spent years in exile and had only returned to Cambodia on May 14, had received a pardon for her jail sentence on March 3 by Senate president Say Chhum, who was standing in as head of state.

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said on Monday that he was not clear on the reason behind the appointment, but government positions were not political.

“Those people are not politicians. They are practitioners … of the government’s policy,” Siphan said. Lany would be contributing to public service, he said.

Political analyst Em Sovanna said the ruling party was again luring opposition politicians into its fold.

“It is an incentive for opposition party politicians to abandon [their party],” Sovannara said. “This is a mechanism that the ruling party has always used and still keeps using to wane and reduce the influence of the opposition party.”

Sovanna said more than 20 politicians had left the outlawed CNRP — formed as a merger between the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party — but they might not have made any difference to the party’s public support.

“It is up to the leaders of the opposition party. If they are still strong … they will still keep their popularity,” he said.

The CNRP was dissolved in 2017 and 118 of its politicians banned from politics. One of its co-founders, Sam Rainsy, lives in exile in France, while the other, Kem Sokha, is under court supervision and still faces an ongoing treason trial. The ruling CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly in 2018 without its main rival contesting the vote.

Reporters have not been able to reach Lany for comment.

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