UPDATED — Senior politician Kong Korm announced he would step down from his activities with the opposition Candlelight Party, apologizing to ruling party leaders for an unspecified “mistake.”
Korm, a former CNRP adviser and a foreign minister in the 1980s, last month made a speech pointing out the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s roots in the Vietnamese-backed government of the 1980s.
Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at Candlelight adviser Korm in response, and launched a series of lawsuits against him.
The Candlelight Party has been backtracking on its criticisms of the CPP since, and on Tuesday Korm issued an apologetic resignation letter, which was published on pro-government media on Thursday.
His page and a half letter thanks Hun Sen for forgiveness in stopping court actions, and says the CPP had no choice but to take away his house in Phnom Penh.
“I would like to accept the mistake and apologize to samdech, to leaders, to the Cambodian People’s Party, who have seen that my recent gesture and acts affected the honor and dignity of the leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party and affect the happiness of society,” he wrote.
There was a new political culture free of “the extremist group” trying to topple the government outside elections, he said, adding that he was attentive to Hun Sen succession plans.
“After examining the above reasons and considering the new world order and the regional geopolitical environment, especially Cambodian politics, which is paying attention to succeeding politicians, I, Kong Korm, decided to end my position and activity as supreme adviser to the Candlelight Party effective immediately.”
His son Kong Monika, president of the minor Khmer Will Party, confirmed the letter was genuine and said his father’s decision was made based on health issues, old age, and requests from his children to let the next generation have their time.
“He has entered his old age and has a lot of health issues, and it is an appropriate time to take a rest from politics to look after his health,” Monika said.
He added that the Khmer Will Party would continue to work with the Candlelight Party ahead of the national election in July.
He wanted to see a new political culture free of political attacks, he said.
“So as a successor politician, we want to see Cambodia have democratic politics, not besmirching each other, where politicians, no matter which side they are on, can work together,” he said. “We hope that a new political culture will help our people have
happiness. Our country will make progress soon.”
The Candlelight Party’s new spokesman Kimsour Phirith — the previous one, vice president Thach Setha, has been put in jail over a controversial check-bouncing case — said he had yet to receive information about Korm’s resignation.
Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan laughed when questioned about Korm’s decision, saying Korm seemed to be swinging back and forth.
“It is his political right. He wants to join any political party, that is his political right. He wants to resign from any party, it is his political right.”
Korm had a large property in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac commune on former state land that was confiscated last month.
Earlier on Thursday, Hun Sen met with students in Phnom Penh and again repeated his vow to not allow extremist groups to destroy the country. But the prime minister also seemed to extend an olive branch to anyone who was overseas and fearing returning back to Cambodia.
“I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a bit that this is Cambodia, a country for all. Those who do not have arrest warrants or even those who had previously insulted the government or have never had a court complaint, they can come back. It is no problem,” he said.
The offer comes amid weeks of virulent speeches from Hun Sen who had threatened lawsuits and violence against anyone who critiques the ruling party and government. He did previously make an offer to former CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann to return home without fear of prosecution.
“Ho Vann, your child is a deputy of Candlelight in Phnom Penh. You should come home. Don’t follow the others. If you want to come, I’ll pardon you.”
This story was updated on February 2 to include comments from Hun Sen.