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Sar Kheng Warns of Complacency, Says Officials Must Serve Despite No Opposition

FILE - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, listens to Sar Kheng, right, deputy prime minister and Minister of Ministry of Interior, as they wait to attend the Independence Day celebrations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Wednesday told provincial officials that the absence of an opposition party did not mean they could ignore serving the average Cambodian and they needed to address citizens’ needs.

At the inauguration ceremony of a new governor in Kandal province, Sar Kheng said that all officials must maintain the “ideals” of serving the people and the nation, and to not take senior government roles only for personal benefits.

"Don’t prepare to position yourselves for opportunists [to take advantage],” said Sar Kheng. “Without the opposition, the officials could be riding horses freely and that would be a wrong idea,” using a Khmer phrase for being lackadaisical.

Following the 2017 commune elections, the government arrested opposition leader Kem Sokha and disbanded the CNRP, ensuring that more than 5,000 local opposition officials lost their commune positions. Also, the CPP won all 125 parliamentary seats in 2018 leaving no opposition in parliament.

The crackdown was criticized by foreign governments and rights groups, with the European Union partially suspending trade privileges last month and the United States imposing targeted sanctions on Cambodian officials over the last two years.

Meas Nee, a political analyst, said without checks and balances, such as a strong opposition, it was unlikely that government officials would find any need to change their outlook to public service.

"I think that as long as the political system is still dominated by a top down system, where there is no difference between bureaucrats and politicians, it will be difficult to make the system work,” he said.