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Chea Sim’s Death Unlikely to Upset Order Inside Ruling Party

Chea Sim, center, president of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, Heng Samring, rear left, the party honorary president, Hun Sen, foreground, the party's vice president and the prime minister of the Cambodian government, file photo.

In the wake of Chea Sim’s death, analysts say Prime Minister Hun Sen will hold even more power within his own party, though many agree that the internal politics of the party won’t change all that much.

Officials of the Cambodian People’s Party told VOA Khmer that Hun Sen will take over as president of the party, keeping in line with decisions made at a party congress earlier this year.

Chea Sim, who had served as president of the CPP, head of the Senate and a head of state during Cambodia’s transition to constitutional monarchy, died Monday afternoon, at 82.

The death of Chea Sim, who in the past led a rival faction to Hun Sen within the party, has shown that that rift has closed, particularly in the face of a strengthening opposition, analysts say.

“The death of Chea Sim will not mean any changes for the CPP, because the CPP has already prepared a successor,” Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University and a political analyst, said, referring to Hun Sen. The old factions within the CPP no longer exist, he said, mainly due to the rise of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

“If the CPP has controversy, it’s political suicide, because the CPP needs to internally unite, since the CNRP is so strong,” he said.

The Senate has now elected as its leader Say Chhum, who had been the vice president. He was among Cambodian leaders who met Tuesday with Vietnamese officials, who expressed support for ongoing close ties.

Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said Chea Sim had become a symbolic leader over the last decade, as he became more ill. His passing will change little, Ou Virak said, although he acknowledged that some reforms could happen faster within the party now. “This is the issue we do not know,” he said.

The CPP is becoming more focused on the youth and giving the next generation more thought, he said, adding that Chea Sim was a “gentle” politician whose methods merit attention.

Peter Maguire, an American legal scholar and longtime Cambodia observer, said Chea Sim’s death is likely to change little for the CPP. “But I think it does kind of highlight the fact that the CPP will need to begin grooming a new generation of leaders if they think that they can remain in control of Cambodian politics,” he said.

For now, he said, the status quo will remain, particularly because China supports the party as it is, and China has brought much development money to the country in recent years. “I think things will get interesting when the Chinese, financially, can’t afford to be so generous.”