Sokha Stinging From Sex Scandal as PM Passes 3 Million Likes
Several hours before Prime Minister Hun Sen surpassed the 3 million “Like” mark on his Facebook page yesterday evening, he posted a series of photographs of himself playing chess with tycoon Chea Ratana, noting that he did not expect to win because it had been quite some time since he had played the board game with his friend.
Mr. Hun Sen won. He jested, however, that he did so despite an attempt by his opponent to trick him, suggesting perhaps that he still sees himself as the underdog despite more than 30 years in power.
The premier also noted that playing chess was a better way to spend his free time than visiting nightclubs and chasing young women, an allusion to the sex scandal engulfing acting opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Yesterday morning, the in-country leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had to deal with yet another protest, this time while meeting supporters in Phnom Penh’s Por Senchey district.
After the meeting he declined to respond to questions from reporters and students about a series of audiotapes of conversations allegedly between him and a young mistress. His security guards had to push journalists away from the venue, causing a bit of a commotion, during the third time Mr. Sokha was publicly confronted about the allegations.
The tapes have caused a sensation since they surfaced last week in Cambodia’s first Facebook sex scandal.
Politicians here have not been known for monogamy, but voters have not previously had access to a private conversation that allegedly occurred between a political leader and a lover less than half his age.
What is ironic – and perhaps monstrous to some – is the fact that social media is no longer the opposition’s domain. The Cambodian People’s Party appears to have gained the upper hand in the one medium the CNRP had dominated before, during and after the last election.
When Kem Sokha was accused of infidelity just prior to the general election in 2013, the CNRP easily dismissed it as a ploy by the CPP to tarnish the opposition and dent its support.
This time, Mr. Sokha, 62, is having a more arduous time. A young woman, Mon Srey, has presented herself as his mistress on Facebook, uploading audio clips of phone conversations to prove it. She says he behaved irresponsibly in their “relationship” and as a result she wants to expose him.
Ms. Srey’s audio uploads also include remarks she attributes to Mr. Sokha that accuse 20-year-old CNRP activist Thy Sovantha of being less than idealistic.
The voice that sounds like Mr. Sokha’s accuses Ms. Sovantha of profiting from her CNRP connections. “She used her position in the CNRP to get money overseas.”
Ms. Sovantha has filed a defamation complaint, though there is no proof yet that it is Mr. Sokha speaking in the audio tapes.
Since the Facebook sex scandal erupted, much talk has been devoted to sex and politics.
Cambodians have in the past refrained from dissecting the sex lives of politicians, at least in the media. Now, with social media, that restraint seems to be eroding.
Sexual misconduct, including adultery, does not augur well for the CNRP or any political party or politician, some analysts have warned.
Sao Deluxe, a law lecturer at a local university, said yesterday that although he does not know whether the audio clips are genuine, Mr. Sokha needs to confront the scandal. “As a politician, if he did not do it, he should say that he did not do it. Silence and ignoring the allegations will not make them go away and will only strive to fuel speculation…If this type of allegation keeps surfacing and this time with the [woman] even showing her picture, sooner or later, people will take this as a truth.
“Moral and filial obligations, responsibility and allegiance will be questioned and in the short to medium run, it will affect his capacity as a politician,” Mr. Deluxue said.
If Mr. Sokha simply denied that it was his voice on the audio tapes and sued the young woman for defamation the issue would go away, he added.
Mr. Sokha advised the party’s members last week to be patient, to refrain from responding to the sex scandal, and to focus on the election.
He has been hounded, however, by a small group of student protesters who want answers. They have been showing up at his public appearances. About fifty students protested in front of the CNRP headquarters to demand answers from Mr. Sokha last Friday, and they followed him over the weekend.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith has sidestepped the scandal. “As I said before, the CNRP is very busy setting up the main policies of the party and working with our youth members, including holding training sessions for young people and preparing candidates at the local level,” Mr. Ponhearith said.
When asked about the protesters, he replied, “It is their right to discuss these allegations, but we have no time to discuss them.”
CPP spokesman Sok Ey San dismissed allegations that the CPP had a hand in the sex scandal, saying the opposition had frequently blamed the CPP for its own foibles.
“In reality, the CPP is busy with its own activities and has no time nor the motivation to get involved with low-level politics as alleged by the opposition party,” he said.
That did not stop Mr. Hun Sen, however, from noting early yesterday that practicing strategic games likes chess was better than womanizing.
Later, he wrote about his delight in surpassing 3 million likes. “I would like to thank youths in Cambodia and overseas for supporting my Facebook page,” he said. “As of 6:08 pm it has 3 million likes.”
“Facebook brings me closer to you and allows me to gather information and hear requests from compatriots… I wish compatriots at home and abroad happiness and good luck.
“I have resolved a number of issues quickly and effectively, directly through Facebook,” he wrote just several hours after announcing his first checkmate in years. – Additional Reporting by Cheang Sokha and Vincent MacIsaac.
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