Prime Minister Hun Sen hit back yesterday at suggestions that he would consider postponing this year’s elections, saying they will go on as scheduled “no matter what happens” – an apparent effort to clarify his remarks in a speech the day before that an election cannot be held “in a chaotic country”.
“With no more explanation, I’d like to just confirm that the already-set schedule for the Senate Election on February 25, 2018 and the National Election on July 29, 2018 will not be changed,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
On Wednesday, Hun Sen said it would be difficult to hold an election amidst “chaos”, after former opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he would call for protests through the newly created Cambodia National Rescue Movement.
The group, which thus far has the support of a smattering of former opposition officials in exile, as well as overseas party members, was announced earlier this month as a means to put pressure on the government over a recent political crackdown.
Rainsy encouraged Hun Sen on Wednesday to call off the elections, claiming they lacked legitimacy with the Cambodia National Rescue Party dissolved by the Supreme Court in November and opposition leader Kem Sokha in jail facing “treason” charges.
Hun Sen singled out The Post yesterday in a speech, saying an article describing his comments should be corrected, although he did not specify what information had been incorrect.
“No matter what happens and at any cost, the election must be held,” he said in the speech, warning against radio stations and newspapers that might “twist and pollute the situation”.
“I would hope that The Post, having had a pretty long life in Cambodia, would have learned more,” he said.
The premier went on to say that Cambodia successfully held elections in the midst of political instability in 1998, a year after he wrested full control of the country from Prime Minister Prince Ranariddh in bloody factional fighting.
Hun Sen also called out Yoeurng Sotheara, a legal expert at election watchdog Comfrel, for his assertions in the article that the Prime Minister held the authority to delay elections, which he said was not the case.
“If you are not clear [on this], you should learn,” he said.
Yesterday, Sotheara said the ambiguity lay in the law itself – with the Constitution saying that “time of war or other exceptional circumstances” could lead elections to be delayed by the National Assembly after a proposal from the King.
The Law on Election of Members of the National Assemby, however, says “the date of polling shall be determined and announced by the Prime Minister” and can be postponed, though it does not specify who has the authority to do so.
“The root of the power is still the prime minister,” Sotheara said, explaining that Hun Sen’s requests to the King are invariably honoured.
According to Rainsy, the options facing the premier – conducting elections with or without the CNRP – carry a certain risk to CPP rule.
“Either organize fake elections without any real opposition and risk losing international legitimacy with far-reaching consequences, or organize real elections with the participation of the CNRP and risk losing those elections,” he said.