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Analysts See Political Maneuver in Hun Sen Speech

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Analysts say Prime Minister Hun Sen has gone on the offensive to discredit his political opponents ahead of elections, after a speech on Monday in which he took credit for helping both the Human Rights Party and the Sam Rainsy Party in previous years.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the Royal School of Administration, Hun Sen said he advised HRP president Kem Sokha in the 2007 formation of his party and had advised Sam Rainsy over a constitutional amendment that lowered the number of seats necessary to form a majority government—from a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to a 51 percent majority.

Analysts said the speech was likely an attack on the credibility of the opposition aimed at boosting support for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, with local elections set for 2012 and national elections the following year.

Lao Monghay, an independent analyst, said the strategy could test the loyalty of opposition and ruling party supporters alike. It could also “make confusion or a loss of confidence” among the opposition’s base, he said.

Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Hun Sen’s statements on Monday could sew doubt in the minds of voters who cast ballots for the opposition in 2008 elections.

“This strategy is under the theory of divide and conquer,” said Chheang Vannarith, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. “For political power, politicians have always used such a policy.”

Pol Ham, a spokesman for the Human Rights Party, said Hun Sen was using “old tricks” to discredit the image of the party.

Recorded telephone conversations purportedly between the premier and Kem Sokha were leaked to the press last week, though HRP officials have denied the calls prove any kind of collusion between the two parties.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said that his party leader and Hun Sen often discussed politics in 2006, with Sam Rinsy meeting the prime minster at his home on occasion.