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Prime Minister Hun Sen cuts a ribbon during the inauguration of an SOS Children’s Village in Kratie province
Prime Minister Hun Sen cuts a ribbon during the inauguration of an SOS Children’s Village in Kratie province on Saturday. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Hun Sen’s defiant stance

Any efforts to topple the government or acts violating the constitution will be swiftly quashed, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned on Saturday while painting negotiations as the only way to solve the ongoing political deadlock.

“If there are acts against the constitution or [moves towards] a coup to topple [the government], the problems will be resolved in just a few hours and will be finished,” Hun Sen told villagers at an inauguration ceremony for an SOS Children’s Village in Kratie province’s O’Russei commune.

“The problems must be resolved at the negotiating table, in the National Assembly, but not in the streets,” he said.

But the prime minister simultaneously called on Cambodian People’s Party supporters to be ready to, if necessary, counter-protest and show their support for the ruling party.

“All demands that are against the constitution are unacceptable, and all brothers who voted for the CPP have to be prepared in order to fight against all irresponsible acts, coup d’etat-like behaviour [and] acts to take the country as hostage,” he said.

The premier’s words come as the post-election impasse nears six months, with the constitutional right to peaceful demonstrations having been suspended by the government following massive street protests led by the Cambodia National Rescue Party calling for Hun Sen to step down and strikes by garment workers that turned deadly after clashes with authorities.

The premier also warned the opposition on Saturday that government inaction in the face of protests should not be taken as a sign that its actions are condoned.

“[I am] speaking clearly [when I say] that [the CNRP] should not feel that when we are quiet it means we are not [planning] on taking action. We will take action only when it is the right time. It is not a warning, but it is to implement the law and protect the constitution.”

The premier added that the Kingdom had to return to a normal state of affairs.

“What we have to pay attention to at this moment is the normalisation of the living conditions of the people and the state.… I will not allow any groups or individuals to take the country hostage,” he said.

The CNRP has disputed the results of the July 28 national election, which gave it 55 seats to the ruling party’s 68. The opposition claims that massive irregularities undermined the poll and has boycotted the National Assembly since it was inaugurated in September.

On Saturday, Hun Sen rejected media reports that he had asked UN rights envoy Surya Subedi to mediate between the two political parties during his mission to the Kingdom last week, saying that Cambodia did not need foreigners to mediate.

“If needed, King Norodom Sihamoni would be the only mediator, but not unless [the gap between the two parties] is narrowed in this dispute,” he said.

A referendum to decide whether a snap election should be held, an idea raised by political stakeholders, the premier added, while not off the table, must originate in the National Assembly.

Last week, political analysts briefed on private negotiations between the two parties via a third-party mediator told the Post that a solution to the political deadlock was on the horizon, with Hun Sen agreeing in principle to 80 per cent of the opposition party’s demands, which included an election in 2015 or 2016, though they did not specify which demands had been agreed to.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that everything his party had done so far, including street demonstrations, respected “the principles of democracy and the principles of the constitution”.

“It is the CPP who launch a coup d’etat against the constitution. Only one party forms the National Assembly.… We have done nothing against the constitution,” he said.

A referendum on a new election could be held without the CNRP participating in parliament, he added.

“We will not sit in the National Assembly against the will of the people. When there is a will, there is a way. Anything that is not prohibited by the law can be done. If there is a political will to do it, we can do it.

If [they] agree on the re-election and the reform of the election, we can sit down in front of the King and sign an agreement, and then we [will] go to the National Assembly.”

Political analyst Kem Ley, one of those briefed on political party negotiations, said he saw Hun Sen’s speech as a “political message” by a premier who recognises that early elections are likely to
be held.

“The two parties will join the National Assembly and amend constitutional article 78 [which says the parliament cannot be dissolved before the end of its five-year mandate] and organise the sixth mandate election prior to 2018,” he said.

“That’s why Prime Minister Hun Sen is starting to organise his election campaign from now. This political message from Kratie is the election campaign already.”

Sok Touch, political scientist and rector of Khemarak University, said that all past post-election deadlocks had been solved through political will, and not through strictly constitutional measures.

“I think that political will would be the only way to resolve the problems … because each party has different views about how to interpret the constitution,” he said.

Touch added that he hoped ruling party supporters would not turn out to physically defend the ruling party, a tactic that he called “out of date”.

Last Thursday, in a move praised by the CNRP, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the government to revoke the ban on public assemblies, “recognise the legitimate role” played by the opposition and drop court summonses against its leaders, and to accept an internationally assisted investigation into election irregularities.

The European Parliament also called on the government to release 23 people arrested during its crackdown on striking garment workers earlier this month and investigate the killing of five protesters during the operation.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH

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