Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that comparing Cambodia’s progress to neighbouring countries is senseless if taking into account the devastation wrought by the Khmer Rouge and the fact that Cambodia has several active political parties.
Speaking at Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Theatre on National Culture Day, Hun Sen appeared to be responding to critics of his who have pointed out that he should start measuring success against developed countries as opposed to the wreckage of the past.
“A person said that contemporary Cambodia should not be compared to the Pol Pot regime, and must compare Cambodia to neighbouring countries,” he said. “If wanting to compare to neighbouring countries, be careful to do the same to Vietnam and Laos, [which] have only one [political] party.
“In short, Cambodia cannot be compared to any country.”
From April of 1975 to early 1979, Khmer Rouge collectivist programs and a police state mentality lead to the deaths of almost two million people. Educated Cambodians were targeted and infrastructure destroyed, hampering the rebuilding process.
Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, has frequently held up his leadership as a marked improvement from the country’s dark past.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said it’s normal for politicians in power to degrade the previous regime and praise themselves.
He said Cambodia progressed, in part, because of “a lot of foreign aid coming in.”
In his speech, Hun Sen said the critics belonged to NATO. Not, he was quick to point out, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but the “No Action Talk Only” group, an undefined set of people who are skilled at speaking and unskilled at following up on what they say.
Human Rights Party president Kem Sokha, who has called Hun Sen out in the past for his comparisons to the Khmer Rouge, said that other countries with historically violent pasts should serve as models for Cambodia.
South Korea and Japan, he said, emerged from war and built bustling economies in 20 years. “But [Hun Sen] has occupied power more than 30 years . . . we compare like this,” Sokha said.