PHNOM PENH —
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said that the recent dissolution of the country’s main opposition party, the resignation of three elected officials in protest at the move, and possible cuts in western aid will not affect the general election, planned for July 2018.
He also blamed the banned opposition to the ensuing international pressure faced by the regime and for any possible sanctions western governments impose.
He mocked the opposition as “losing double” after members of the National Election Committee (NEC) who were seen as sympathetic to its cause resigned in protest at the Supreme Court decision to ban the Cambodia National Rescue Party last week.
“In these few days, there have been some stupid actions. They want to crash the National Election Committee by asking officials to resign,” he said. “Please note, we will not delay anything.”
During the nearly two-hour speech, Hun Sen said that foreign recognition of the 2018 election was not necessary for it to be legitimate.
“The election still goes on. February 25 will be the date of the Senate election, while July 29 will be the date of the National Assembly election,” he said. “With or without electoral observers, it does not matter.”
“Without observers, it doesn’t mean the election is not legitimate and the Cambodian constitution or around the world doesn’t state that one country needs another country’s president or the U.N. Secretary General to acknowledge its election is legitimate.”
The speech came days after three election officials -- Kuoy Bunroeun, NEC vice president; and members Rong Chhun and Te Manirong -- resigned in protest at the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Hun Sen has said that the three former NEC officials will be quickly replaced by officials from Cambodia’s minority parties.
Chhun said that recruiting new NEC members in this way could violate the election law -- a charge levied against the now-dissolved opposition on numerous occasions.
“The [National] Assembly will likely amend the [election] law to accommodate those parties,” he said.
Meas Ny, a social analyst, said without election observers the 2018 election would lack recognition, but added that “nothing can stop the government because nowadays they just do whatever they want.”
The international community has heavily criticized the decision to dissolve the opposition, which is widely seen as a purely political move. Two major donors to Cambodia, the United States, and Sweden have announced the will reduce aid to the country.
Meanwhile, the European Union, Cambodia’s largest export market at about $5 billion annually, on Thursday asked Cambodia to respect “fundamental human rights” for it to continue to benefit from the bloc’s preferential trading scheme, called Everything But Arms.
Hun Sen blamed the CNRP for any sanctions that may be placed on Cambodia. “The opposition party has gone abroad to call on foreign countries to stop buying goods from Cambodia. They committed a crime. They violated the law. When we punished them, they appealed [to foreigners].”
“Please remember, kids, if there is any reduction in orders of goods from Cambodia, it is all because of the opposition party. Hun Sen will not die,” he told a crowd of garment workers in the capital, claiming the opposition’s lobbying for sanctions was “killing garment workers”.
The current political crisis is the worst since government security forces killed at least five people, some of whom were factory workers, during a period of strikes and protests in the aftermath of the 2013 election.
Despite the protests from the west, Cambodia has received strong backing from China, its largest donor, and lender. On Wednesday, Prak Sokhon, a foreign minister, met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Myanmar. Yi reportedly reiterated China’s commitment to “support Cambodia’s efforts in maintaining political stability”.