In an apparent change of heart, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday told members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party that dual citizenship should not preclude a person from leading a political party.
Hun Sen has said in the past he would like to change the law so that only Cambodians with sole citizenship could lead a party—which would leave out his political opponent, Sam Rainsy, the head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, who has French and Cambodian citizenship.
“Upon close consideration from the leaders of other political parties, as well as the push for more participation, the CPP has decided to open up the opportunity for political party leaders, regardless of how many citizenships he or she holds, to participate in the elections with the CPP,” Hun Sen told gathered members of his party.
The statement was the reversal of a position Hun Sen had taken on the matter in December, when he announced he would seek a law to limit the citizenship of political leaders like Sam Rainsy. Sam Rainsy is in exile abroad, facing a two-year jail sentence on a criminal defamation charge from 2008 should he return. Hun Sen had said that political leaders with more than one citizenship leave Cambodia too easily to be responsible for their actions in the country.
Thida Khus, director of the development organization SILAKA, said such flips in position could damage people’s confidence in Hun Sen’s leadership. But she said allowing for more than one citizenship in party leaders would help Cambodia in the long run.
“The important thing is that we need human resources,” she said. “We need people who are willing to come to help and serve the nation. It’s not that all the politicians who hold one nationality are sincere, while those who hold more than one nationality are not. It’s not like that.”
Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann said Hun Sen’s announcement would help “normalize the current political situation,” as well.
Hun Sen was speaking at an annual ceremony to mark Jan. 7, 1979, when Vietnamese-backed forces ousted the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh. The day is a contentious one, because while it did mark the end of Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia, it also meant the beginning of a decade-long occupation of the country by Vietnam, embittering many Cambodians.