In its first public remarks following last week’s flurry of government-sanctioned violence, officials from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party yesterday slammed the opposition for derailing democracy and flouting rule of law in the Kingdom. The CPP said the CNRP’s actions would achieve nothing but “dishonour” for Cambodia, and it vowed to stop at nothing to defend the National Assembly and the government.
“Certain political forces and ill-willed circles have made constant attempts to deceive history from white to black.… They continue to consider themselves enemies of the 7 January victory, to make slandering propaganda, to deceive the public, to disrespect the constitution and existing laws, while colluding to seek all means to deny achievements scored by the Cambodian People’s Party,” National Assembly president and CPP honorary president Heng Samrin told those in attendance at January 7 celebrations on Koh Pich yesterday morning.
The words are the first major outlining of the ruling party’s position since a brutal crackdown on demonstrators last week that left at least four dead, 23 imprisoned and the constitutional right to freedom of assembly under question.
Speaking to what Information Minister Khieu Kanharith claimed were 35,000 party members and supporters, and flanked by wheelchair-bound Senate and CPP president Chea Sim and Prime Minister Hun Sen, Samrin highlighted the apparent differences between the CPP, which has allowed Cambodians to live “under the light of peace and progress” after the Khmer Rouge’s defeat, and the opposition.
“Cambodia risks derailing from its correct path were these circles to succeed with their actions,” Samrin siad.
Following the election, the opposition upset the public by encouraging demonstrations, making “baseless” demands and blocking “the functioning of democratic institutions” as well as further violating the will of the people and democratic principles by asking for Hun Sen to step down, Samrin said.
“No matter how hard they try, these actions would provide them with nothing but people’s frustration, disordering security, public order and dishonoring [their] own nation.”
Samrin added what appeared to be a veiled threat that the crackdown on demonstrations would continue: “The [CPP], as the ruling party legally [elected by] the people, emphasises that it will do everything possible for the sake of defending the elected National Assembly and the Royal Government, the constitution and democracy.”
Despite that, Samrin said the CPP was willing to negotiate at every level with the CNRP to solve remaining issues and was committed to electoral and other reforms.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap expanded on the prospect of negotiations yesterday.
“The opposition party cannot use mass demonstrations to resolve political disputes. Only negotiations are the international standard for resolving political disputes,” he said, adding that as the CNRP lost the election, it was up to them to set the negotiating agenda.
Following the speeches, traditional dances and the release of doves and colourful balloons yesterday to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge, a coterie of foreign diplomats from countries including Vietnam, Myanmar, Cuba, North Korea, China and Russia presented wreaths to the CPP leaders.
The January 7 celebration is always divisive, as it not only marks Cambodia’s liberation from the Democratic Kampuchea regime but also the start of the Vietnamese occupation, but this year it came at a politically explosive time. Despite a ban placed by authorities on public assembly, some observers feared possible protests yesterday and a military presence controlled roads leading to Koh Pich.
But the public holiday appears to have proceeded without incident.
Yim Sovann, spokesman for the CNRP, yesterday said the ruling party was simply trying to defend an “illegal” National Assembly and government by blaming the opposition. “The CPP is the one that leads the country [in an] authoritarian style and uses [its] armed forces to kill its own people, to crack down on the opposition and organise an unfree and unfair election,” he said.
“The CNRP are the ones who respect the will of the people and are aware of their duty toward the country.”
The opposition would only negotiate if a re-election and serious electoral reform were up for discussion, he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH