After weeks of ominous warnings against an unnamed political party over its supposed links to former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, Prime Minister Hun Sen has now revealed that he was alluding to the Candlelight Party (CP), as surmised by most observers.
The premier has claimed that CP has links to Rainsy, the former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who has been publicly calling on the armed forces and citizens to rise up against the government in rebellion and who most recently insulted King Norodom Sihamoni by calling him a “traitor”.
Hun Sen called on all rank-and-file CP members to leave the party “before it is too late” and demanded that the party leaders make a public statement explaining their positions and views on Rainsy’s recent statements.
He made the call on October 26 while distributing rice seeds to more than 3,000 farmers in flood-inflicted Kampong Chhnang province and named the CP leaders its president Teav Vannol, vice-president Son Chhay and spokesman Thach Setha.
Previously, Hun Sen only warned of legal actions against the party, which he threatened to sue to have dissolved in similar fashion to the CNRP, which was disbanded in 2017.
CP was renamed in 2018 from its original name – Sam Rainsy Party – after the law on political parties banned naming parties after specific individuals.
The premier said the reason he posed his questions to CP was due to the fact that it was originally formed by Rainsy.
“Has this party cut ties with [Rainsy] or not? That’s the problem at this point,” he said. “We want to see the position of the Candlelight Party on [Rainsy’s] insults towards the King, like his saying that the King has no conscience.”
Hun Sen then went on to name the aforementioned CPP leaders and demand a public explanation from them for Rainsy’s words.
He said that calling on the army and the public to rise up against the government and insulting the King are not small issues and therefore the party members must distance themselves from it as soon as possible before it is too late.
“I call on Candlelight Party members at all level to leave this party immediately – as quickly as you can manage it,” he said, adding that the members can then go and join any other party they prefer.
“Under democratic principles, if you don’t like the Cambodian People’s Party [CPP], you can join another party. But if you want to come to the CPP, you are welcome,” he said, stressing that the government has been working on implementing democratic principles while people like Rainsy have been working to advance extremist ideologies.
Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for treason charges earlier this month by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. He was previously sentenced in absentia to various lengthy prison terms in other cases for crimes such as plotting or conspiracy.
Recently, he was seen on video appearing to say that the King “has no conscience” and is a “traitor”.
Hun Sen explained that the law on political parties does not permit any political party to have any links with convicts.
“Don’t see this as a threat. But you have to know that we are the government and we have enough ability to protect the King, monarchy and throne. I am committed to the principle that no one can violate the sanctity of the monarchy.
“I have the right to pose questions to you because this issue is related to terrorism and turmoil because of the plot to topple the government and constitutional monarchy. If there were no statements [by Rainsy], things would not have come to a head like this,” he said.
CP spokesman Thach Setha told The Post that his party’s position is to respect the monarchy.
“We respect the Cambodian Constitution, which is our founding law that we all live under. We must not violate the law or any institution that is protected by the law,” he said.
Setha said he did not see Hun Sen’s warning as a threat and was instead happy that the prime minister is open-minded about having a discussion on this topic.
“This is a good thing. In democracy, we need such discussions, speaking directly to each other on the matter to find the right and wrong of it. We will happily explain to the public as per the prime minister’s request, and we will announce our party’s position soon. We will issue a clear official statement in writing very soon,” he said.
Setha stressed that his party has a permit to function from the Ministry of Interior and it has a clear command structure that does not receive orders from anyone outside the party.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that if the CP has no links with any convicted person, Rainsy included, then the party should stay strong and defend its innocence and clear itself of any suspicion.
He said that should the CP leaders leave and join other parties, the issue Hun Sen is concerned about will still not end unless they really do distance themselves from Rainsy.
“If they still have connections with any convict who is banned by law, their new party they would form or join will still face the same problems, as stated in the law on political parties,” Phea said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Justice Koeut Rith has issued an order to the prosecutor’s office of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for them to take urgent and serious legal measures against Rainsy for insulting the King.
In a letter dated October 25 and addressed to municipal court prosecutor Chreung Khmao, Koeut Rith said: “Sam Rainsy’s words in a video clip – which went viral on social media – are a serious insult affecting the dignity and reputation of the King, who is highly revered by people across the country.”
Citing Article 29 of the Criminal Procedures, he said the justice minister can file a complaint with the prosecutors at a lower court or the Court of Appeal to inform them of crimes that he has knowledge of. The minister can also issue an order in writing which will be included in the case as the basis for the investigation of the charge.
Koeut Rith said Rainsy has violated Article 7 of the Constitution, which states that the King shall be “inviolable” and insulting the King is a lese-majeste as detailed in Article 437 of the Criminal Code, which stipulates a prison term of one to five years and a fine of up to 10 million riel ($2,500).
This is not the first time that Rainsy has been in legal jeopardy for insulting the King. In 2019, he was sentenced to four years on the same charge and later on in 2020 he was charged once again for another imprudent statement.