PHNOM PENH —
Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this week said his ruling party would bring “real change” to Cambodia, which he has ruled virtually unopposed for over 30 years, while the next day warning that he would send security forces to raid the opposition headquarters if its deputy leader did not leave the premises.
“We must continue to bring real change that is not false or a lie,” he said during the Cambodian People’s Party’s 65th anniversary celebrations at the party’s Phnom Penh headquarters on Tuesday.
Speaking to more than 2,000 attendees, he went on to praise the party’s efforts to develop Cambodia, which was ravaged by war and mass killings over decades since the 1970s.
However, the premiere issued a note of caution, warning against “any ruse aimed at changing society through the incitement of a color revolution or other vicious means that leads to the nation losing stability, unity, and falling into tragedy again.”
In the aftermath of the 2013 election, in which the CNRP failed to win a majority amid widespread allegations of fraud, a protest movement that swept the capital led by the CNRP’s deputy leader Kem Sokha and its president, Sam Rainsy, led Hun Sen to allege that the opposition was attempting to foment a color revolution as other protest movements had done in Eastern Europe.
Cambodian dancers perform during the 65th annual celebration of ruling party Cambodian People's Party (CPP) establishment on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at CPP's headquarter in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Leng Len/VOA Khmer)
After a period of détente in which the two parties struck a deal that saw the 55 elected CNRP lawmakers take their seats in parliament, the leaders are once again at loggerheads. Rainsy has gone into self-imposed exile after an arrest warrant was issued in November 2015 over a years-old defamation ruling. Meanwhile, Sokha went into hiding after an attempt to arrest him was made in May.
Sokha is wanted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to answer questions relating to allegations he solicited the services of a prostitute.
On Wednesday, Hun Sen stepped up the rhetoric, saying he would dispatch security forces to remove Sokha from the CNRP headquarters if he refused to give himself up.
“Even if you do not dare to come out, there will be a day that we will go get you out,” he said.
Numerous rights groups and the international community have spoken out against what is considered a politically motivated campaign to go after the opposition ahead of the next election. But Hun Sen has played down the crisis, calling on his critics not to meddle in what he says are personal squabbles between individuals.
Meas Ny, a social researcher, said the ruling party had been applying increasing pressure on the opposition, as well as unaffiliated people protesting against injustices, the stripping of Cambodia’s natural resources and land grabbing.
Heng Samrin, National Assembly President and Prime Minister Hun Sen, about to release doves during the 65th annual celebration of ruling party Cambodian People's Party (CPP) establishment on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at CPP's headquarter in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Leng Len/VOA Khmer)
“Those who protest are accused of collusion with the opposition party and face consequences,” he said.
Hun Sen argues that his rule has brought stability, jobs and economic growth, which has hovered around 7 percent for several years. To protect this apparent economic prosperity, his government has shown it is willing to use deadly force against unarmed protesters.
Son Chhay, the CNRP’s chief whip, said there were no party policies or plans intended to incite revolution to overthrow the government.
“The party only wants free and fair elections. And we have stated our policy clearly: that the CNRP does not have any policies to topple anyone through the use of force,” he said.
The threat made against Sokha came after he gave an exclusive interview to the Reuters news agency on Sunday in which he said Hun Sen was scared of defeat at the ballot box.
“His strategy is to remove the opposition party’s leadership,” he told Reuters.
Hun Sen rebuked the claim on Wednesday.
“He said Hun Sen is scared. To the contrary, the person who is living in a four-meter-squared box should come out instead,” he said. “You said Hun Sen is scared of being defeated in the election, but I would like to tell you that you will be jailed forever.”