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Hun Sen Continues to Use Fiery Election Rhetoric, Aimed at Stoking Fear of Conflict

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, attend an opening the World Economic Forum on ASEAN, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, May 11, 2017. Some 700 people from 40 countries in the region has been attended this week the World Economic Forum on ASEAN that was held by impoverished Cambodia. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The prime minister has gone as far as to warn that “civil war” could follow an opposition victory at the polls and equating the fallout to a return of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has frequently warned of impending conflict and instability should his party, the Cambodian People’s Party, lose an election.

The message has been repeated ad nauseam in speeches over the past several years, where the premier has gone as far as to warn that “civil war” could follow an opposition victory at the polls and equating the fallout to a return of the Khmer Rouge regime.

On April 20, during a speech at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, he once again questioned whether peace could be guaranteed “if the criticism [of the government] and the blame persists.”

While officially campaigning was not allowed to begin until this past Saturday, Hun Sen said the speech was not part of his campaigning for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, but rather a “reminder” ahead of the election.

“What does one vote for? Vote for peace or war? You can choose between war and peace. A vote for the CPP is a vote for continued peace and development opportunities,” he said.

Political analysts and economists said that such inflammatory rhetoric could undermine the country’s development and shake investor confidence.

Ear Sophal, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said the prime minister’s warnings could end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Investors don’t like war because it’s bad for their investments and especially returns on investments, unless these investors are weapons dealers,” he said in an email.

Stephen Higgins of consultancy Mekong Strategic Partners said investors were likely to keep a close eye on political developments and rhetoric in the run up to next year’s general election. “As part of that they will take into account the nature of politics and the context in which statements are made.”

The analysts said that the government should work harder to reduce corruption and further strengthen the legal system to provide greater protections to investors.

Mu Sochua, an opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party vice president, said Hun Sen’s threats were empty as he would not risk endangering his family’s huge investments in Cambodia.

“Everyone knows that the families of the ruling party are involved in most investment in Cambodia. Will they risk their businesses?”

Em Sovannara, a political scientist, said the references to conflict were intended to secure support from the elderly, the rich and the business community. “It will not affect the educated youth,” he said.

On Monday, Cambodia’s defense minister, Tea Banh, said any Cambodians protesting the results of the elections “will be beaten until their teeth come out”.