Sar Kheng Is Lone Manet Holdout Among Deputy Prime Ministers

3 min read
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng at a podium during a meeting, in a photo posted to his Facebook page on August 9, 2021.

Nine of 10 deputy prime ministers have issued statements of support for Hun Manet, the prime minister’s eldest son now backed by his father to be next in power.

Though one of the nine, Ke Kim Yan, issued a statement through his department rather than by name, it is only Interior Minister Sar Kheng — sometimes seen as a benevolent foil to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the target of speculation over the prime ministership — who has issued no statement.

Since Hun Sen declared his support for Manet to take over the country last Thursday — pending several more years of his rule, and a general election — a flood of congratulatory messages have appeared online from officials and institutions.

Even the Kampong Thom Provincial Court, Siem Reap Provincial Court, Tbong Khmum Provincial Court and Preah Sihanouk prosecution joined the action, saying in Facebook posts that they fully supported Manet as a prime ministerial candidate for the future.

Members of the judiciary, as well as the military and National Police, are allowed to be members of political parties but are prohibited from political activities under the Political Parties Law.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia also issued a statement, saying Manet was “a great Cambodian who is qualified, highly educated, capable, talented, virtuous and moral.”

But Kheng, whom Hun Sen had directly addressed on Thursday, saying he was older than Hun Sen and that power needed to move onto the next generation, is yet to issue a message.

The other nine deputy prime ministers — Kim Yan, Hor Namhong, Men Sam An, Bin Chhin, Yim Chhay Ly, Finance Minister Aun Pornmoniroth, Land Minister Chea Sophara, Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn and Defense Minister Tea Banh — offered their support mostly through Facebook.

Banh, whom Hun Sen also addressed in his speech, issued his congratulations on Saturday, a day or two behind most of the others.

Kim Yan’s National Anti-Drug Authority took until Monday to issue a letter that all leaders of the authority fully supported Manet. Kim Yan’s daughter is married to Kheng’s son Sar Sokha.

In a speech on Monday, Hun Sen again spoke of Kheng, telling him to come out and address political analysts’ speculation over the prime ministership.

“I’m using a strategy to put out the fire rather than fan the flames, because everyday, everyday … they talk about transferring power. So there is only one way to end that problem: Announce it.”

He added that after his announcement he had sent seven groups to coffeeshops to see how people were reacting. “Beside the Hun Sen family, who [do we] trust?” he asked.

Nevertheless, Hun Sen encouraged other senior officials to put forward their own sons to compete against Manet.

“Generally the father wants the child to be in a bigger [position],” he said. “In the CPP, if anyone wants to compete with Hun Manet, please submit the candidate.”

But the transfer would need to be a wholesale change, with the entire older generation stepping aside, Hun Sen said.

“It is impossible to install Hun Manet on the top of brother Say Chhum, brother Heng Samrin, Samdech Sar Kheng, Samdech Pichey Sena [Tea Banh] and other current leaders, to speak clearly with each other on this point.”

On the same day as Hun Sen’s speech, Kheng’s son Sokha, an Education Ministry secretary of state, issued his own letter of support.

“I and my family announce our full support for the remarks of Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, prime minister of Cambodia, stating during the inauguration of Road 37, wastewater treatment plant, and achievements in Sihanoukville his declaration of support for His Excellency Hun Manet as the future candidate for prime minister.”

It was not clear whom Sokha intended to include as “family.”

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Kheng’s silence left plenty of room for interpretation about his feelings on endorsing Manet.

“The silence means he agrees — or, on the other hand, he is not happy with it,” the analyst said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Sar Sokha’s letter came after Hun Sen’s speech, but the exact timing is unclear.

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