Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked all Candlelight Party commune councilors to defect and retain their positions in a new party, while also challenging three senior opposition officials to renounce Sam Rainsy.
The prime minister has railed against former CNRP president Sam Rainsy in the past weeks, calling his family traitors, threatening to arrest him if he entered the country, and criticizing comments Rainsy made in a video where he allegedly criticized King Norodom Sihamoni.
Hun Sen has also threatened to punish anyone associated with Rainsy, even making a thinly-veiled reference to Candlelight and its possible dissolution if it did not disassociate from the former CNRP leader.
The prime minister was in Kampong Chhnang on Wednesday distributing aid to flood-affected residents when he again took aim at Rainsy and Candlelight. Hun Sen said all Candlelight councilors should denounce Rainsy, defect from the party, join the CPP or any other party of their liking, while retaining their positions in commune councils.
“I would like to clarify that this matter is not a small thing and not a funny thing. The Candlelight Party’s council members should distance themselves as soon as possible to avoid any issue from happening,” Hun Sen said.
“If you want to join the Cambodian People’s Party, the Cambodian People’s Party will welcome you and if you want to join with other parties, other parties will welcome to prepare for the 2023 election.”
The offer is similar to one made by Hun Sen in the run-up to a court hearing at the Supreme Court in 2017, where the government wanted the high court to dissolve the CNRP. Hun Sen, at the time, gave 5,005 CNRP councilors the option to defect to the CPP and retain their positions in the commune council.
He said on Wednesday that councilors would be able to retain their positions because Interior Minister Sar Kheng signed off on council memberships.
Hun Sen then shifted to a video of Rainsy criticizing the king during a public forum in relation to border treaties with Vietnam — a politically charged topic that often results in discrimination against ethnic Vietnamese populations living in the country.
“The king today has no national conscience, not even a little,” Rainsy says in the video. “After Hun Sen, the king of Cambodia betrayed the nation, because we supplemented others, betrayed the nation completely, because we cut off Khmer territory to foreigners.”
Hun Sen asked three senior Candlelight leaders — Teav Vannol, Son Chhay and Thach Setha — to make clear their position on Rainsy’s comments, but did not say what the consequences would be for their choices.
He added that he was in possession of an audio recording where another former CNRP leader, Eng Chhai Eang, allegedly discussed candidate lists for Ratanakiri province, a claim he made last week as well.
“We want a clear clarification from the Candlelight Party whether insulting the king and considering the king to have no national conscience even a little and being a traitor is correct or not?” Hun Sen said.
“You all don’t say that this is a threat but you have to know that I am the government, I have enough ability to protect the king, protect the monarchy, protect the throne. I can’t let you do this abuse.”
He then took aim at unnamed NGOs that opposed the government for wanting to overthrow his administration.
“I believe that among the organizations that oppose the government, they will not speak about this because they also participated and wanted to topple the government and change the monarchy regime.”
VOD could not reach Chhay, Setha or Vannol.
In 2005, Hun Sen had mulled dissolving the monarchy after late King Norodom Sihanouk said that his son and king, Norodom Sihamoni, would not be in the country to sign off on a controversial supplemental border treaty with Vietnam.