Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday announced that he would replace CPP President Chea Sim if the ailing octogenarian were to pass away, and promised to maintain his three-decade hold on power as the ruling party’s candidate for prime minister in the 2018 national election.
The speech came in the wake of a visit to Malaysia over the weekend in which Mr. Hun Sen hosted a public event with opposition leader Sam Rainsy and spoke of the possibility that the CNRP president might replace him as prime minister.
On Wednesday, however, Mr. Hun Sen declared his supremacy over the ruling party and put to rest any speculation that he planned to cede the power that he had carefully consolidated since becoming prime minister three decades ago.
“In the case that Samdech [Chea Sim] passes away, the one who will be the [CPP] president is Hun Sen,” he said at the opening of a palm-oil processing plant owned by CPP Senator Mong Reththy.
“Hun Sen is not the president, but has already led the party up until today from a long time ago,” he added.
The prime minister said he would continue to pray for Mr. Sim’s health, but that the CPP was “waiting only for a vote” to officially make him the new president. He also said that CPP Secretary-General Say Chhum would replace Mr. Sim as Senate president.
With the CPP facing the greatest threat to its popularity since the country’s U.N.-sponsored election in 1993, Mr. Hun Sen promised victory over the opposition CNRP in the 2018 election.
Thanking Mr. Sim and National Assembly President Heng Samrin for their continued support of him as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Mr. Hun Sen told those in attendance Wednesday to “listen clearly.”
“Hun Sen is working [as the prime minister] in the fifth mandate and Hun Sen will win in the sixth mandate. The CPP will win again. It is because [the CPP] wins that we can live in such comfort together,” he said.
Returning to what has become a familiar refrain for the prime minister, Mr. Hun Sen suggested that war would erupt if he were not re-elected.
“Do you remember the change in 1970 after the toppling of Samdech Preah [Norodom] Sihanouk?” he asked. “War broke out throughout the country.”
“So be clear that the candidate for the sixth mandate remains Hun Sen. Nobody is coming to replace me,” he said.
The health of Mr. Sim, 82, has long been on the decline. The CPP president missed the party’s congress in January because he was in Vietnam receiving medical treatment.
Senate spokesman Man Bun Neang said Wednesday, however, that Mr. Sim’s health was “normal.”
“He is the same as every other day…. He has been normal like this for many years,” Mr. Bun Neang said, noting that Mr. Sim mostly stays at home.
“He is eating like normal…he works like normal and reads documents like normal,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)
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