The government’s decision to not allow a statue of the slain political commentator Kem Ley pride of place in the capital’s iconic Freedom Park will lost it votes at the upcoming election, analysts have warned.
Ley, an outspoken critic of official malfeasance and abuse of power, was shot dead in Phnom Penh on July 10 in a killing widely believed to be politically motivated.
Meas Ny, a social researcher, said the government’s refusal to recognize Ley as a public figure of importance worthy of a place alongside the Late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, poet Krom Ngoy, and former Buddhist Patriarch Chuon Nath – who all have statues in the square – would undermine ruling party support at the next election.
“If the government doesn’t confirm it recognizes Kem Ley as a hero … [it] would undermine the voters’ support at the upcoming elections,” he said.
A letter from City Hall on September 29 in response to a request from Ou Chanrath, an opposition lawmaker who requested the statue be placed in the square, also noted the objections of the military.
Sao Kosal, a spokesman for the committee that is planning a 100-day remembrance ceremony for Ley, slated to begin in October, said he regretted the decision, adding that the group would also seek to have the statue installed at the gas station where he was gunned down.
Mean Chanyada, a spokesman for City Hall, could not be reached for comment.
Chanrath, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker who made the initial request for the statue to be placed in Freedom Park, said the idea was not intended to boost the popularity of his party.
“Perhaps they were confused and thought the opposition party was tryingg to score political points. I said many times that I wasn’t doing this for political gain for the opposition party,” he said.
More than three months since the public death of Ley the authorities are yet to announce the findings of an investigation into the killing. One suspect, who has given his name as Choub Samlab, has been held on murder charges.
Western governments, human rights groups and the United Nations have all called on the government to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of the slaying.