PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/Asia News Network): Hun Manet, the designated prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), has chided former opposition leader Sam Rainsy for alleging that he had smuggled $5 million in cash into France to “buy” the support of the Cambodian diaspora community.
Manet – currently Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army – dismissed the claims as baseless and a “cowardly attack”, while sarcastically referring to Rainsy as a “mature politician”.
“One thing after another, it just never ends. Let me ask you: Aren’t you exhausted from doing this over and over again, Mr Mature Politician?” Manet asked rhetorically, referencing Rainsy’s past claims that his academic achievements at the US and UK universities – from which he received his Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctorate degrees – were not genuinely earned.
Rainsy – former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – alleged in a social media post on Nov 15 that 10 years ago, the lieutenant general was tasked by Prime Minister Hun Sen to engage with Cambodian communities living abroad such as the US, Australia, Canada and France in order to reduce the popularity of the opposition party and strengthen CPP influence.
He further claimed that Lt Gen Manet had illegally transported $5 million into France using diplomatic pouches that are not subject to customs searches or enforcement, and that the money had been discovered, confiscated and remained frozen to this day.
He also alleged that the Cambodian ambassador to France at that time, Nouth Narang, had actually been expelled by the French government over the incident although, he claimed, it was not made public back then.
This is not the first time that Rainsy has gone out of his way to draw the ire of Manet, nor is it the first time that Manet has responded to his allegations publicly with the offer of a bet using Rainsy’s retirement from politics as the stakes that would be won by whichever side was proven correct.
In 2019, Rainsy alleged that Manet’s West Point Academy Bachelor’s degree was “second class” and granted to him as a diplomatic favour, but West Point itself clarified to The Post that Manet’s admission to the school as an international student was based on the same criteria used to judge US candidates.
It stressed that the awarding of Manet’s degree was entirely based on the merits of his academic work as there was no such thing as a “second class” degree from the institution.
“Generally, mischief makers will only attack when your back is turned to them. When [Rainsy] is called out to wager on it directly, we find he’s not so brave,” Manet said. “I want to ask you again, Mr Mature Politician, who only takes cheap shots from behind: Are you brave enough to take the bet this time?”
Manet offered the same terms as he did previously, which Rainsy rejected out of hand.
“We can follow the same conditions for the political career bet. If your allegation is true, I will pull myself out of politics entirely. And if it is not true, then you have to end your political career permanently and retire from politics for the rest of your life,” Manet dared Rainsy.
Manet recounted how the self-exiled opposition leader and his close associates spent decades trying to destroy his father’s political career but to no avail and is now trying any and all means to target him instead.
“Now, I’ve given you the opportunity to accomplish that goal with this bet and you should not pass it up,” he said.
“If you are sure on this, then you should take my bet and end my political career. It might help you save face this time and avoid people’s criticism that it is unseemly for a ‘mature politician’ to have such a childish attitude,” Manet said.
Manet said that if this latest allegation was true, it would not be difficult to prove because the French government would have law enforcement records and other documentation about the supposed incident.
Prime Minister Hun Sen shared Manet’s social media post and asked whether Rainsy, whom he called the son of “three generations of traitors”, was brave enough to take the bet this time around.
“This guy causes trouble for everyone indiscriminately, from the King on down to the younger generation. Aren’t you tired of this, at all? Will lightning strike you if you go a day without attacking somebody?” Hun Sen wrote on social media.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Rainsy was just making spurious accusations against Manet to keep his own name relevant and in the news as he is jealous of Manet’s “rising star” in the Cambodian political arena.
“I have noted that Sam Rainsy’s strategy is to cause problems by inventing these stories in order to provoke some reaction, even from Prime Minister Hun Sen. When the situation gets too quiet, he will level some fresh accusation just to get a response,” he said. “But his claims are always baseless.”
Yong Kim Eng, director of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said the tit-for-tat was little more than a publicity stunt by Rainsy, and one that both he and Manet are trying to use to their own advantage with the exchange.
“It could also be Sam Rainsy’s way to try and keep some connection with his supporters, locally and abroad,” he said.
“Maybe he’s lonely.”