Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Wednesday that he purposely let the leaders behind mass protests following the 2013 national elections flee Cambodia, after calling the demonstrations an attempt to “overthrow” his government.
Following the 2013 national elections, supporters of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), led by Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, took to the streets of Phnom Penh to march against the results in protests that eventually resulted in violence.
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won the July 2013 polls with 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55.
“The losers wanted us to step down!” the prime minister said on Wednesday.
In response, former opposition CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath warned that politicians taking “revenge” would “bring no benefit” to the Kingdom and may even cause foreign nations to “interfere” in Cambodia’s internal affairs.
Hun Sen was speaking to nearly 18,000 garment workers in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district on Wednesday.
The CPP president compared the 2013 national elections, in which the CNRP participated, with this year’s polls, where it was absent due to its dissolution by the Supreme Court after its president, Sokha, was arrested on treason charges.
Hun Sen hailed his party’s “landslide victory” in the elections this year, in which it took all 125 seats in the National Assembly, with voter turnout reported as 83.02 per cent.
He called the election success a “victory for the democratic process” and accused those who took part in Rainsy’s “Sleep At Home” campaign, which called on voters to boycott the July 29 polls, of being the ones who were “anti-democracy”.
“The people who supported the elections are democrats. The ones who opposed it via the ‘Sleep At Home’ campaign are anti-democracy."
“What happened after the 2018 elections?"
“If we look at the elections in 2013, there were demonstrations to overthrow the government, saying: ‘Hun Sen, step down!’ The losers wanted us to step down!” he said.
The prime minister did not mention any opposition leader by name and said he does not wish to take revenge against any rival.
“You are good at running away fast. You good at protesting. We are not chasing you. We purposely let you flee."
“If you move one step to cross the red light, you will get attacked back because we cannot allow you to overthrow the government via street riots,” Hun Sen stressed.
‘It is our hard work’
The prime minister went on to express pride that an increase in workers’ minimum wage was a benefit brought about by the CPP government, not because of opposition demonstrations to demand such a rise.
“Before, [the opposition leaders] said the rise in wages came because of their demands, but now [the CNRP] has died and wages are still rising – and because of what? It is clear, it is because of our hard work,” Hen Sen said.
However, former CNRP lawmaker Chanrath on Wednesday disagreed with the prime minister that an election boycott was undemocratic.
He said not voting is not a protest against democracy but people expressing dissatisfaction with the political status quo. He said such action was also a part of the democratic process.
“I think elections are important for a democratic society, but they should be free and fair. Elections should be held to reflect the people’s will.
“They should not be held just for the sake of appearances. I do not believe that the people who did not vote are anti-democratic,” Chanrath said.
He said Cambodian politicians seeking revenge would bring no benefits to society and perhaps permit foreign nations to interfere in Cambodian affairs.
“I think [such action] should not happen, escape or no escape. If [opponents] do not escape, the revenge starts and that is a terrible thing. If revenge were to persist, it could allow foreign countries to interfere in our nation."
“As we can see from history, fighting between Cambodians has never benefited the Kingdom,” he said.