Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), Sam Inn and Sem Hak, announced their departure from the party to join the ranks of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

The two have accepted senior posts at the Ministry of Environment, and were welcomed to the CPP fold by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Sam Inn, former acting chairman of the GDP’s executive committee, announced via social media on April 2 that he had resigned both his position and his membership of the party, and joined the CPP.

He explained that he had appealed to Hun Sen, president of the CPP, for permission to join the environment ministry, where his expertise and experience could be put to good use.

“I would like to rejoin political life with the Cambodian People’s Party so I will have the opportunity to work for the government via the environment ministry. This way, I will be able to contribute to supporting communities in protected areas and the development of ecotourism,” he wrote.

On the same day, the prime minister used his own social media channel to say that he had seen the request, and would like to extend Inn a warm welcome.

“On behalf of the CPP, I warmly welcome Sam Inn to join the party. On behalf of the government, I will request a royal decree appointing him as secretary of state to the environment ministry. He has the necessary skills and experience to succeed in this appointment,” he wrote.

Hours later, Hun Sen announced that another GDP member, Sem Hak – previously the party’s secretary-general – had also applied to join the CPP. Hun Sen was pleased to accept, and assigned him the post of under-secretary of state at the environment ministry.

Sam Inn said that after evaluating the results of the 2018 and 2022 elections, he felt that he had exhausted all possibilities of achieving his goals with the GDP.

“I cannot continue. If I was to do so, it would be bad for the party, and for me. That’s why I decided to leave and pursue some challenges that will renew my energy,” he said.

Sam Inn was pleased that the premier and environment minister Say Samal had agreed to his request.

“Through a government role as secretary of state at the ministry, I will be able to develop ecotourism, conserve and protect natural resources, as well as promote the rights and livelihoods of the people who dwell in or near to protected areas,” he said.

GDP president Yeng Virak said that his party would not dispute the departures, as it was up to any individual to exercise their political rights.

“This does not mean that I do not share the frustrations and regrets of all GDP supporters for the loss of any member. However, I assure all members and all supporters that I will not abandon the GDP,” he added.

As party president, Yeng Virak committed to redouble his efforts to achieve the GDP’s goals and implement its policies.

On April 1, the GDP issued a proclamation naming Sek Sokha as Sam Inn’s replacement and awarding Sem Hak’s position to Vay Lundy.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that this kind of party swapping was not unusual in Cambodian politics, noting that it had been happening since the 1990s, and had often happened to FUNCINPEC royalist party and the opposition Candlelight Party, along with other smaller parties.

“This is similar to the case of Yang Saing Koma and Lek Sothea, who both left the GDP for the CPP last November, and are now working from within the government. Their political theories may be valid, but they cannot benefit Cambodian society from outside of government. This way, they can use their skills where they are needed most – to support the people of the Kingdom,” he added.

He said the fate of the GDP would be determined by its leadership, but noted that the loss of four senior officials may bring about doubts among their grassroots level supporters.

“This may cause GDP supporters to look for another political party to back,” he said.