The Cambodian People’s Party Central Committee yesterday added more than 300 members to its ranks, the largest-ever class of inductees from government, civil society and law enforcement.
The new members, which bring the committee’s ranks to more than 800, were sworn in to conclude a three-day party congress, where the CPP deliberated over its plan for the next five years.
Yesterday’s inductees include high-profile government officials and party loyalists, such as Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan; Keo Remy, the head of the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee; Sok Touch, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia; and Huy Vannak, Interior Ministry official and president of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia.
All four have been vociferous defenders of the crackdown on the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved at the government’s behest in November over accusations that it was attempting to engage in “colour revolution”. The dissolution has left the CPP without legitimate competition in the upcoming national elections.
Other prominent inclusions are Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Tith Sothea, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mean Chanyada, former Nation Election Committee Chairman Im Suosdey and pro-government unionists Chhoun Mumthol and Som Aun. Also inducted was Ky Tech, the CPP lawyer who led the case that ended in the CNRP’s dissolution.
Tech and Phnom Penh official Chanyada declined to comment on their new positions, while fellow inductee and Kampong Speu Provincial Governor Vy Samnang said he was happy to be able to “participate in maintaining peace for our country”.
The Royal Academy’s Touch, an academic who has increasingly pushed the government’s “colour revolution” narrative over the last year, said the pressure to perform for the party had now increased. “When a woman loves me, I need to pay attention to her in order to satisfy her. And it is the same when the party puts trust in us; we will have to double our efforts to serve the country and the people,” Touch said.
The CPP also inducted two sons of late Deputy Prime Minister Sok An – Sok Sokan and Sok Puthyvuth, also Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son-in-law – as well as Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s son and brother, Sar Ratha and Sar Thet, respectively.
But CPP spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed concerns of nepotism, saying the party was expected to recruit from within its own fold. “We do not think about lineage or relatives of his and her excellency,” he said. “If someone has all the criteria . . . the congress will vote to include them.”
Convening for its first congress since its political machinations all but guaranteed the party’s short-term survival, the CPP was scant on details of its policy plan. A resolution praised the “effective and stern legal measures” that quashed the alleged “colour revolution of the former opposition party, aided and abetted by external ill-willed circles”. Among other priorities highlighted in the document are peace with neighbours; improved livelihoods; wide-ranging, though undefined, reforms; and defence of the monarchy. It also supports promoting democracy and holding free and fair elections, despite the widely held belief that the dismantling of the only legitimate opposition party runs counter to the principles of a multiparty democracy.
Throughout its history, the CPP has maintained a communist-derived structure, though its Central Committee membership now dwarfs that of similarly structured parties in much larger countries. The central committee of the Communist Party of China, for instance, has just 205 members, and Vietnam’s has 175.
Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University in Thailand, said the drastic increase in the size of the committee had affirmed its position as a “receptacle in a pyramidal spoils system”.
He added that the handing out of these privileges was incumbent on loyalty to Prime Minister Hun Sen. “It is a market for the dishing out of rewards in return for the service of pro-actively working to make ordinary Cambodians toe the line conforming to the party and government,” he said via email.
Political commentator Ou Virak said the Central Committee had “lost relevance” by being watered down by new members, and that the standing committee, which is more senior and is stacked with the heads of the country’s most powerful institutions, was the one to keep an eye on. “
You can expect to see that the sons and daughters will be promoted very quickly in the next few years,” Virak said, referring to the CPP senior members’ children and Hun Sen’s three sons.