The removal of Tourism Minister Lay Prohas on Tuesday by a directive from Prime Minister Hun Sen has led to mixed reaction, local media on Thursday quoted sources as saying.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith refused to identify the exact reasons behind the dismissal, but explained that the replacement of the co-ruling Funcinpec Party's Lay Prohas by Tourism Secretary of State Thong Khon from the major ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) was a normal action to restructure the ministry and it didn't stem from any mistakes that Lay Prohas made, Cambodian language newspaper the Chakraval reported.
However, an unidentified official alleged that Funcinpec leaders suspected that Lay Prohas planned to defect to the opposition Norodom Ranariddh Party, thus making his position untenable, it reported.
Meanwhile, tourism officials said on condition of anonymity that the decision was down to Lay Prohas' indifference towards CPP officials working at the ministry, another Cambodian language newspaper the Rasmei Kampuchea reported.
Funcinpec Rural Development Minister Lu Laysreng expressed dismay on learning of the decision, saying that "I would like to express regret for the fact that Tourism Minister Lay Prohas has been removed from his position."
"Even the Funcinpec permanent committee does not know of the removal," Cambodian language newspaper the Moneaksekar Khmer quoted him as saying.
Funcinpec Secretary General Nhiek Bun Chhay declined to comment on the removal, but said that Hun Sen had the right to remove officials if he felt that they were not working properly.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the removal of Lay Prohas was another step by CPP to consolidate its power in the more lucrative ministries, English language newspaper the Cambodia Daily reported.
Lay Prohas was appointed as Tourism Minister in 2004. The number of tourists to the kingdom has grown to 1.7 million in 2006, a 20 percent rise over 2005.
"Lay Prohas is very impressive. He is the best among the former ministers," the Cambodian Daily quoted Moeung Sonn, director of the National Association of Tourism Enterprises, as saying.
Son Chhay, director of the fifth permanent committee of the National Assembly, said that the legislative body will hold a session on May 17 to vote for the formal appointment of Thong Khon as Tourism Minister, said the Rasmei Kampuchea.
Funcinpec officials now heads seven of Cambodia's 25 ministries. According to an agreement with CPP in 2004, Funcinpec can hold 40 percent of the government posts. But the deal was no more valid in the eyes of both sides, as the political conditions have changed in the past years.