Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday offered a definition of “patriotism”, claiming the term should not be applied to people who “shout” from abroad but reserved for those who remain with the people no matter the situation.
Sar Kheng is currently acting prime minister while Hun Sen attends the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing from Thursday to Monday.
“Some people just shout while living abroad. They shout from overseas that they are more patriotic than those who stay in the country. We are in the country and serving the people every day, but they don’t consider us patriotic.
“They said that it is they, who are abroad, who are more patriotic – but let them say what they want,” Sar Kheng said while delivering food aid on Thursday to 279 families affected by storms in Battambang province’s Thma Koul district.
“But what exactly is patriotism? Patriotism comes from when the nation is in a time of suffering, when the people are suffering, we have to stay with them and we have to protect them and the country’s territory and independence, to ensure the country is at peace and secure and developing. This is patriotism.
“Patriotism is not just spoken from the lips or written on paper, it is when we refuse to leave our people behind and stay with them no matter what – this is real patriotism,” he said.
‘The CPP never left the people’
Sar Kheng, who is also Minister of Interior, said his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had never fled and abandoned the people.
He added that people would know who had really helped them, and they would vote for those who had come to their aid.
Sar Kheng did not name those he was referring to, but his words were seemingly aimed at the leadership of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Some of the former opposition’s high-ranking officials are currently based abroad, including its “acting president” Sam Rainsy.
Rainsy told The Post via email on Thursday that Prime Minister Hun Sen had fled Cambodia to Vietnam in mid-1977 to escape from the Khmer Rouge.
He added that in 1978 many other current high-ranking CPP officials, including National Assembly president Heng Samrin, subsequently fled the country, not out of any moral conscience but because they feared for their lives due to the genocidal regime’s internal purges.
“Why didn’t they remain in Cambodia in order to – as Sar Kheng says – ‘show their real patriotism, to stay with the people at all times, defend the nation and sovereignty, and development and peace’?” Rainsy said.
Accusing Hun Sen of keeping the Khmer Rouge’s destructive mentality and culture of violence and impunity, he added: “Therefore Cambodian democrats and freedom fighters have to regroup somewhere in a safe place in order to prepare for a toppling of the criminal Hun Sen regime,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said that the then Prince Norodom Sihanouk was himself living in exile during the first half of the 1970s and from 1979 to 1991, and he did not think the King Father was any less patriotic for it.
He continued that he did not think that the current leaders who fled to Vietnam and returned to topple the Khmer Rouge and form the People’s Republic of Kampuchea “were any less patriotic” either.
Mong Hay said Rainsy had worked hard while he was in the Kingdom and had virtually single-handedly helped garment workers get better wages and working conditions, as well as helping stall holders at markets around Phnom Penh secure their rights.
He added that Rainsy had also been punished for pulling out a post while defending the country’s borders, and had nearly been killed in a grenade attack at a demonstration calling for an independent judiciary.
“He went into exile abroad in circumstances not dissimilar to those in which those leaders had fled the country. I don’t think Sam Rainsy is any less patriotic,” he said.