Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday characterised an opposition party proposal to lower interest rates on bank loans as a project to cancel debt in the country, comparing the idea to the misguided agrarian dreams of the Khmer Rouge.
Speaking to several thousand people during a speech in Kep province, Hun Sen said that should the backers of such a pledge came to power in the election, “the Pol Pot regime” will occur again.
At the helm of the Khmer Rouge movement that led to the deaths of nearly two million, Pol Pot presided over a sweeping plan to abolish private property and other vestiges of the capitalist system. One of the more notorious means to this end was the blowing up of Phnom Penh’s Central Bank, which Hun Sen alluded to in his speech.
“The question is: what will they do in order to cancel debt? … Firstly, they will do the same as Pol Pot, meaning they will shut down all the banks and dissolve all the laws on the banks; this will be dangerous and a disaster.”
He said that if the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party gains power but does not destroy the banks, its members lied to the people in order to gain votes, since many Cambodians carry around debt from the country’s financial institutions.
The talk about debt fed off a statement by opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann last week proposing a vague idea to lower interest rates on loans by ridding banks of corruption and bloated bureaucracy.
Nhem Ponharith, spokesman of the CNRP, said yesterday that Hun Sen’s speech amounted to defamation and totally mischaracterised the proposal. Far from cancelling debt, it sought to decrease rates by at least one percentage point a month, easing the burden on borrowers.
“The ruling party’s statement was propaganda . . . because the cancellation of the debt was not contained in our political platform.”
Meanwhile, Hun Sen continued to portray the CNRP as a divided party, pointing out that acting president Kem Sokha is the older brother of a CPP adviser, Kem Sokhon.
“And the question we need to ask is, why is Kem Sokhon not supporting his older brother?”
Koul Panha, executive director of the local election monitoring nonprofit the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that the speech was not out of character in an election season.