In a five-page letter wishing Cambodians a happy Khmer New Year, Prime Minister Hun Sen also took the opportunity to praise himself and his government for an ongoing, internationally condemned political crackdown.
“In the previous year, though Cambodia faced obstacles both inside and out, the defence of the people and national security has been enhanced firmly,” said the statement, which was dated April 3 but made public on Monday.
Hun Sen goes on to congratulate Cambodia for avoiding the “colour revolution trick of the opposition party colluding with foreigners to attempt to topple the legal government”.
In November, at the government’s behest, the Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the country’s only viable opposition – the Cambodia National Rescue Party – while its president, Kem Sokha, languishes in prison on “treason” charges.
“This is the year in which the colour revolution failed seriously in Cambodia,” Hun Sen’s letter continues.
Though the government has vehemently defended the crackdown as necessary to preserve “peace and stability”, it has been almost universally condemned by the international community.
Paul Chambers at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said that far from preserving political stability, Hun Sen had “effectively destroyed Cambodia’s democracy”.
“Political space and liberal democracy, for Hun Sen, have become dirty words and his staunchest enemies,” Chambers added.
In Monday’s message, the premier also repeated past calls – as he has since his party’s narrow victory over the upstart CNRP in 2013 – for the government to “look in the mirror” and “clean” itself.
He concludes by calling for unity among Cambodians.
“I wish for all Khmers to have good mind, tolerance and solidarity as one big Cambodian family on Angkor territory with happiness, prestige and dignity,” he said. The premier, however, has rejected overtures for negotiations from the former opposition.
Ou Chanrath, a former opposition lawmaker, said the premier’s association of the CNRP with colour revolution was meant to sow “confusion”.
“The CNRP stands on principles of nonviolence . . . We have never thought of competing for power by using the colour revolution,” he said on Monday.
As for Hun Sen’s call for unity, he added, the Cambodian people “will not be able to believe it”.
Additional reporting by Andrew Nachemson