In a bid to reinforce the legitimacy of his government amid an ongoing parliamentary boycott by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday looked west for an analogy.
He chose one that didn’t involve a ballot box.
Instead, he pointed to Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order, which was formed after the military’s May coup and immediately began clamping down on dissenting voices, as a suitable parallel.
Both governments had received royal approval, Hun Sen said, and were therefore equally legitimate.
“I just want to send a message back [to the opposition], that you are stupid to go by yourself. You have to consider whether [the government and parliament] are legitimate or not.…. And a Royal decree is the highest legitimacy above all others" in a constitutional monarchy, he said.
“In Thailand, [General] Prayuth Chan-ocha received a Royal decree from the King so he too can work [legally]. But here, the National Assembly obtained a Royal decree for the convening of parliament. Here in Cambodia, it is impossible to convene the National Assembly without a Royal decree.”
Speaking to a crowd of thousands of disabled Cambodians on Koh Pich during the launch of a new five-year National Strategic Plan for Disability, the premier said that the government was happy to continue lawmaking without the CNRP, adding that the mooted possibility of a February 2018 election – five months early – would be impossible if the opposition continued to “play around”.
“The [election] law must be changed by the National Assembly,” Hun Sen said, referring to the CNRP’s demand that the next election be brought forward by at least a year.
“I would like to confirm that if no other new law comes to replace it, it means that everything will continue to go smoothly in accordance with the existing laws.”
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, whose party won 55 seats in parliament at the last election, which it claims was rife with irregularities, yesterday called the government “unconstitutional and undemocratic”.
“Nobody now can contest the fact that Cambodia’s current regime is anything but a liberal and plural democracy. With the former communist CPP alone occupying and controlling all state institutions, starting with the National Assembly, the present Hun Sen government is based on a one-party system reminiscent of Cold War communism,” he said in an email.
“Hun Sen only makes his case worse by comparing his government to the current Thai government, because a coup is a coup. No government can be legal and legitimate as long as it is the result of a coup, whether it be a military coup as in the case of Thailand or a constitutional coup as in the case of Cambodia following the controversial July 28, 2013, national elections.”
Veteran political commentator Chea Vannath said that Hun Sen was trying to “buy as much time as possible” by continually justifying the legitimacy of his government.
“[He’s] trying to find justification and make the ends justify the means. The comparison [with Thailand] is right, both are in the same situation, approved by the King, so it is the right comparison or analogy but it’s not the way democracy is supposed to be,” she said.
“Democracy is about working together to lead the country and representing the voices of different people for the whole country.”