Friday 30th September 2011
Prime Minister Hun Sen had further consolidated his powers within the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) with his latest and successful purges against the loyalists of his chief rival, Mr. Chea Sim, who is the Senate President and the president of the ruling CPP. His insatiable thirst for powers and political supremacy and his continuous purges against the loyalists of one of the most powerful figures within the ruling party is worrisome. His actions, if not contained, could degenerate into an open political and armed fight that could lead to the destabilization of the government and eventually plunge the country back into the scenario of the 1970s that has brought civil strife and catastrophic destruction to the country.
The subsequent arrests of Mr. Chea Sim’s loyalists have to do with political reasons and purges more than their alleged criminal acts. If it was for criminal reasons then one would wonder why only Chea Sim’s loyalists had committed criminal acts and why Hun Sen’s loyalists are so clean as no one from his faction had been arrested and convicted for corruption or criminal acts? One could conclude that the continuous purges against Chea Sim’s loyalists are due to political rivalry between the two.
The political rivalry and the power struggle between Hun Sen and Chea Sim dated back to 1985-1986 after Hun Sen had gotten rid of his chief rival, Prime Minister Pen Sovan in 1981, and then positioned himself to take over Pen Sovan’s job as prime minister. In an interview with Funcinpec Party-funded TV just before the 1997 coup, Mr. Pen Sovan said that it was Mr. Hun Sen, then as foreign minister, who led a group of soldiers to surround his house, arrested and deposed him as prime minister in 1981. In around 1989 or 1990, Mr. Hun Sen, who was the chief peace negotiator with Sihanouk, had nominated all his loyalists to all the six positions for members of the Supreme National Council. Mr. Chea Sim, who was the then powerful president of the National Assembly, protested and the composition was then reshuffled to include Mr. Chea Sim’s loyalists like Dith Munty and Im Chhun Lim. In 1992, Mr. Hun Sen incited a mob to protest against Mr. Ros Chhun, Chea Sim’s brother-in-law and the transport minister. He was then sacked with charges of corruption using the pretext that the people had turned against him. At that time Mr. Chea Sim and Hun Sen were fighting for the position of party president which Mr. Chea Sim eventually won because he had more loyalists within the parliament to vote than Mr. Hun Sen. Mr. Hun Sen had to settle for the position of party vice-president but was allowed to retain his incumbent position of prime minister, a position that gives him more power than the party president.
After the 1993 UN-organised election, Mr. Chea Sim’s loyalists such as Sin Song, the powerful Minister of Public Security, and Mr. Sin Sen, the powerful police chief, have been briefly forced to flee to Vietnam to avoid arrests after Mr. Hun Sen had accused them of involving in a plot to declare the secession of the eastern part of the country after the ruling CPP lost the election to the royalist Funcinpec Party. Again in 1994, Sin Song and Sin Sen and their loyalists were arrested for alleged coup plot against the government. Many believed that Mr. Hun Sen had concocted the two events to use as pretexts to sideline and marginalize Mr. Chea Sim prior to the formation of the upcoming coalition government with the winning Funcinpec Party and also to tarnish Mr. Chea Sim’s image and to contain his influence within the new government.
Further, many of Mr. Chea Sim’s loyalists had been sidelined and marginalized significantly after Mr. Hun Sen’s 1997 coup against the royalist Funcinepc Party, the winner of 1993 election. After Mr. Hun Sen had done with his other rival, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, he turned against Mr. Chea Sim for opposing the coup. Many of Chea Sim’s loyalists, like Gen. Ke Kim Yan, commander-in-chief of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, the notorious Keang Vuth, the commander-in-chief of the Military Police, and others were then sidelined, marginalized and subsequently sacked for refusing to go along with the coup or for having not been active enough in executing the coup plan.
Mr. Hun Sen struck again in around 1999, when he sacked a number of judges loyal to Chea Sim, including Oum Sarith, the Supreme Court judge and others, for alleged corruption on charges of releasing many criminals from jails.
The big blow to Mr. Chea Sim’s power came in 2009 when Mr. Hun Sen sacked Gen. Ke Kimyan, an ardent supporter of Mr. Chea Sim and an in-law of his brother-in-law, Mr. Sar Kheng, as the commander-in-chief of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. After his sacking, Gen. Ke Kimyan was also threatened with arrest on charges of land corruption. In January 2011, Chea Sim’s and Sar Kheng’s loyalists such as Hun Hean, Moek Dara, Chheang Son, Chea Leang and others were arrested on dubious charges of alleged drug dealings.
The final straw came in August 2011 when Gen. Chhoeun Chanthan, Chea Sim’s once powerful bodyguard chief, was arrested and jailed. Gen. Yim Leang, a Hun Sen loyalist, was appointed as Chea Sim’s new bodyguard chief. So, without a loyal bodyguard, Mr. Chea Sim’s life is also in danger. And now Mrs. Pheng Kunthea Borey, his chief of protocol, Gen. Chan Kosal, Gen. Ponlork Ho and Gen. Khieu Bora, who were very close to him and are his political backbones, were arrested.
Mr. Hun Sen’s purges against Mr. Chea Sim’s loyalists were carried out to intimidate Chea Sim’s other loyalists into submission or to scare them off in order to force them to switch allegiance to him.
This is, however, not the end of the purges against Mr. Chea Sim’s loyalists. More of Chea Sim’s loyalists will be purged and arrested in the coming months. At the end, Chea Sim, Sar Kheng and Say Chum, the three brothers-in-laws who have been outsmarted by a political animal of peasant background, will be stripped of all official or powerful positions or even arrested and jailed for other dubious or trumped up charges.
Mr. Hun Sen’s latest quest for political supremacy is reminiscent of the Khmer Rouges purges in the late 1970s when hundreds of thousands of its ranks and files were arrested and executed as Pol Pot’s paranoia of plots against him drove him to destroy himself from within. Hun Sen’s quest for political and military supremacy within the ruling CPP could be his own undoing as powerful figures within the Chea Sim faction, who fear that they could be the next targets and for reasons of their political survival, could strike back one day in a surprise attack that could see Mr. Hun Sen assassinated.
Despite believing that the Chea Sim faction has the ability and the potential to strike back, I believe that this is the beginning of the end of the Chea Sim-Sar Kheng faction as it had been significantly weakened beyond resurrection as a result of Hun Sen’s quest for political supremacy. The faction, but particularly Chea Sim and Sar Kheng themselves, will be finished as a force to be reckoned with and eventually disappear into the political oblivion and probably will be tossed into the political wilderness in the not too distant future. They could never stand up to Hun Sen’s political domination and will be unable to tackle his political supremacy head on. The only way they could overpower Hun Sen and bring him down is to use a back door tactic and that is to say to literally assassinate him. This scenario could happen and becomes a reality if Hun Sen kept purging their loyalists and does not give them rooms to breathe. As the saying goes: “a cornered dog will bite back and bites back hard”.