Two leaked audio tapes, purportedly of Prime Minister Hun Sen speaking candidly to senior officials, appear to hint at insecurities within the ruling party over the controversial dissolution of the country’s main opposition, with the premier warning that the party’s “struggle” didn’t end with the eradication of its only real competition.
In a 12-minute audio clip shared by Camnews, Hun Sen describes the ruling party’s current problems, and possible solutions.
“Our problem does not end at CNRP dissolution; we need to think that at this stage our struggle remains complicated with international and internal problems,” Hun Sen says, contradicting previous statements where he brazenly dismissed, and even welcomed, international sanctions.
However, he says the “important problem” is internal unrest. “It does not mean that because the opposition party is dissolved we can become careless or stop working, but this thing might become the danger for us. It is not the opposition party that kills us, but we kill ourselves” Hun Sen explains.
In an almost universally condemned decision last week, the Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, following a Ministry of Interior complaint, over accusations it was fomenting a foreign-backed “revolution”. The party’s popular former president, Kem Sokha, is currently in jail on charges of “treason”, the implications of which appear to weigh on the premier’s mind.
“We need to make sure the people get the benefits and are happy,” he says, adding that if people have benefits, “they will not talk about who is jailed or who is dissolved”.
Hun Sen also appears to admit that despite a lack of public outcry, the move to dissolve the CNRP was likely not received well by the people. He says he is “targeting” garment workers because he believes they are traditional supporters of the CNRP. “I am grabbing garment workers as a target because I think it will change the workers’ minds. You know the worker is a strong power of the opposition party.”
The premier announced this week that he would be intensifying his recent charm offensive in the sector, increasing his normal twice weekly visits with workers to three visits a week.
“The people have not expressed in their behaviour dissatisfaction or disagreement about the opposition dissolution, but we should not forget that on the election day, they will express their stance by casting the vote,” he says.
In the second clip, shared by Ministry of Information official Prom San, Hun Sen says it would be a “double loss” if opposition supporters flocked to another party, like the Candlelight Party, and delivered the CPP a defeat.
The Candlelight Party is the rebranded incarnation of the Sam Rainsy Party, one of the two parties that merged to create the CNRP. Candlelight currently has members in the Senate and has considered running in the national elections.
“We have already dissolved one opposition party. If we cannot win over the new party that they just created, that is terribly bad for us,” Hun Sen says.
Yesterday, Candlelight President Teav Vannol said they are “still thinking about it”.
“The CNRP gets stronger and stronger, and finally the government dissolves it,” said Vannol, explaining that if the Candlelight Party has any chance of winning the election, the government will find a way to remove them, too.
In both videos, Hun Sen says officials should focus on ending illegal logging and other forestry crimes, as well as corruption and embezzlement.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he had not seen either leak, but believed the contents to be in line with previous commands from Hun Sen. He said the clips were simply strategies and not an acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
“It is normal; our party leaders often educate the party’s officials to do something good. It is nothing strange,” he said.
“It is a reform for all sectors . . . The [officials] must clean their body, look in the mirror and comb their hair,” he said.
Seemingly chastened by the results of the 2013 elections – which saw the CNRP make huge gains against the ruling party – Hun Sen in a speech used very similar wording to acknowledge discontent and issue a rare call for broad reforms, including crackdowns on illegal logging and corruption. However, in the intervening time, little has changed on either front.
Mu Sochua, deputy president of the now-dissolved CNRP, said the new leaks were evidence that Hun Sen is “desperately holding on to power”.
Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said the Prime Minister faces “strict limitations” in how much he can actually reform.
“Reforms are limited by what they have always been limited by, which is a conflict of interest between powerful individuals in the system and the country as a whole,” he said.
Strangio added that the danger for CPP in the election wasn’t in losing, but in failing to win by a big enough margin. “[Even] if people vote against the CPP everywhere there is an alternative, they won’t lose the election, but that would be very embarrassing,” he explained.
“Hun Sen is smart enough to know he can’t dissolve support for the opposition,” Strangio said, adding that the premier was looking for “some kind of act to win the hearts and minds”.