Analysts are at odds over Prime Minister Hun Sen’s remarks regarding protecting the Kingdom’s hard-won peace and the government’s policy that there can be no forgiveness for those who threaten peace through “revolutionary acts”.
On March 6, Hun Sen renewed his calls for the public to prevent a “colour revolution” and maintain peace. He also reiterated that there would be no tolerance for those who seek to destroy peace.
“We will not forgive anyone, either Cambodian or foreign, who uses the pretext of democracy or human rights to carry out activities against our independence and sovereignty, as this could plunge us back into civil war. We have had more than enough deaths to earn the peace we now all enjoy, so, it is better that we all work together to preserve it,” he said while addressing a graduation ceremony for students from the Institute of New Khmer Genertation.
His remarks came just days after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced former opposition leader Kem Sokha to 27 years in prison for conspiring with foreign powers to overthrow the government. The verdict deprived Sokha of his right to vote or to engage in politics, and he is barred from communicating with anyone outside his family without court permission.
Cambodian Reform Party founder Ou Chanrath said that no one wanted to see any form of revolution in Cambodia, whether among the general population, government officials or the non-governmental politicians who aim to develop society, in line with democratic principles.
“No foreign countries want to see Cambodia plunged into war either, because it was the same foreigners who helped Cambodia to end its war, negotiate peace and re-build the nation during and after the UN intervention of 1991,” he added.
“The remarks will not mean a great deal to Cambodia, as international relations are traditionally off and on. But it will impact the international community’s trust in us, because the volume of political rhetoric continues to be raised,” he continued.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said there is a risk of the further decline of democracy in Cambodia.
“Several western nations saw the trial against Kem Sokha as unjust, and said it appeared to illustrate Prime Minister Hun Sen’s fear of western influence,” he added.
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), said the prime minister’s remarks stemmed from the Kingdom’s bitter experiences during the civil war.
“It is the fear that bad actors could drag Cambodia back into the same catastrophic circumstances as in the past that drove the prime minister’s calls to prevent a colour revolution,” he added.
“The prime minister was concerned that a colour revolution could take place, like those that happened in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. Those countries have suffered the consequences ever since. Let me ask – was it a gain or loss for those nations?”
“We all remember that Cambodia has been through civil war, a war of foreign aggression, and the genocidal regime of Pol Pot. We suffered terrible destruction before the Kingdom was finally restored,” he concluded.
Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Cambodia should learn from the colour revolutions that occurred in the Arab world this century, in places like Syria, Libya and Tunisia.
“The situation was not improved in any of those countries by having foreign interlopers topple their governments. It just brought insecurity and destroyed peace. This is the lesson that Cambodia must learn. We must avoid conflict and keep the peace at all costs,” he added.
“The practice of democracy has a different basis in the West than in the Asian world. It is different because of social attitudes, the leadership system and other factors. We cannot compare one to the other. Safeguarding the peace and stability that was earned in 1998 must be our priority,” he concluded.