Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday used the 66th anniversary of his ruling party’s creation to order an investigation into a group of election monitors and call for more changes to the Law on Political Parties to further alienate ex-opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
Speaking in Phnom Penh to mark the June 1951 founding of the revolutionary communist party that would ultimately become the Cambodian People’s Party, Hun Sen also appeared to accuse the opposition of harbouring plans to rewrite Cambodian history to label the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk “a traitor”. However, as one opposition-aligned royal noted, Hun Sen’s communist regime in the 1980s had once done precisely that.
Hun Sen told the audience of supporters and party officials that he was worried about a report from the election monitoring coalition, the Situation Room, detailing some irregularities at the June 4 commune elections.
“Some of the problems we have to handle soon are: What is this Situation Room that has in recent days been dirtying the election results? Has the Situation Room registered with the Interior Ministry?” Hun Sen said to the thousands gathered on Koh Pich.
“Do they have the rights to create this or that place, or take it as the base for orders with the principles of a colour revolution? If so, the Interior Ministry must take immediate action against what they are doing under the pretext of election observing.”
However, Yoeurng Sotheara, a monitoring and legal official at elections group Comfrel, which organised the Situation Room, said the premier had “misunderstood” the group’s intentions, adding that the room itself was no longer in use since the elections period had ended. The coalition of observers was formed only for the elections, he said, and had always followed the law.
“The Situation Room was just a temporary public forum. We came together to share ideas, and share the responsibility of contributing to election monitoring and to election observation,” Sotheara said. “We have done nothing that contradicts the laws of Cambodia and we have not committed any legal offences.”
“The NEC did many good jobs, and we just found some irregularities,” he added, referring to the National Election Committee. “We don’t deny the good things done by the NEC. We appreciate the NEC, and our findings were just recommendations.”
As he was leaving the anniversary celebrations, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said he would follow Hun Sen’s orders to investigate the Situation Room’s legality. “Let me manage it,” Kheng said. “After a study, we will know.”
In his speech, Hun Sen also asked the CPP to consider amending the Political Parties Law further to stop former opposition leader Sam Rainsy from causing trouble from abroad on behalf of his old opposition party.
“We are not afraid of you,” Hun Sen said, “but we do not want you to make disorder.”
The ruling party’s last round of controversial amendments to the law in February forced Rainsy, and several other opposition members, to resign from the Cambodia National Rescue Party in order to prevent new clauses from being used to dissolve it on the basis of members’ criminal convictions – many of which are politically tinged. At the time, the amendments were decried by many as a severe blow to democracy in Cambodia.
In an email yesterday, Rainsy said he did not believe Hun Sen could do much to stop him.
“He is annoyed by my Facebook posts seen by millions of people in Cambodia. Modern information and communication technologies powerfully work in favor of democracy,” Rainsy said.
“Small dictators like Hun Sen can do nothing against this trend.”
Yet yesterday’s celebrations on Koh Pich also focused on history, with Hun Sen’s CPP having taken the June 28, 1951, formation of the communist Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP) as its own date of creation – despite the numerous name changes since.
After the 1979 overthrow of Pol Pot’s ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime – which Hun Sen and other defectors later branded a usurper to the mantle of Cambodian communism – the KPRP re-emerged as the communist People’s Republic of Kampuchea, only to formally renounce revolutionary communism in 1989 and change the name of its one-party state to the State of Cambodia.
Hun Sen reminded the thousands of CPP supporters who turned out on Koh Pich for the 66th anniversary that “history is written by the victors” – and appeared to warn of a CNRP win at the 2018 national election.
“You must all remember that from 1953 to 1970, the ones who wrote the history were the royalists, and at that time Norodom Sihanouk was the father of the nation,” Hun Sen said, recounting how regime changes altered how old leaders were portrayed.
“But there was one day – March 18, 1970 – that Lon Nol staged a coup successfully, and became the winner, and he immediately wrote into history that Norodom Sihanouk was a traitor to the nation, while Lon Nol was the patriot,” he said. “This point shows that only the winner has the rights to write history.”
“If we allow the others to gain success,” he added, in apparent reference to the opposition, “clearly the traitors Sam Sary, Son Ngoc Thanh and Sim Var will turn into the statesman and heroes of the nation, while Norodom Sihanouk would be the traitor again.”
Sam Sary was Sam Rainsy’s father, and served as one of Sihanouk’s closest advisers and senior government ministers until 1959, when he was accused of planning a coup d’état with Son Ngoc Thanh, an ethnic Khmer Krom Cambodian nationalist and republican. Sary was later assassinated under disputed circumstances.
Sim Var was a prime minister in the 1950s whom King Sihanouk in the 1990s accused of being part of a Son Ngoc Thanh “clique” that tried to ruin him while he balanced competing political trends. Var was also associated with Lon Nol’s March 1970 coup d’état.
“We don’t only have the duty to protect our party – we have the duty to protect peace, the royalist regime based on the constitution and throne and the King,” Hun Sen told his party faithful. “This is a heavy burden.”
Prince Sisowath Thomico, a CNRP official who served as Sihanouk’s secretary from 1979 to 2005, when he abdicated the throne to his son, said Hun Sen could not remove from history the fact that his own PRK had once labelled the King a “traitor”, nor could he erase his more recent threats to abolish the monarchy and revert Cambodia to a republic.
“History does not depend on winners or losers,” Thomico said. “As I remember, during the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, Prince Sihanouk was accused as a traitor. So whatever he says, just remind him he used to say Prince Sihanouk was a traitor.”
The Vietnamese-backed PRK regime labelled then-Prince Sihanouk a traitor after he created a shadow coalition government with himself as president to fight the PRK, according to Hun Sen’s authorised 1999 biography Hun Sen: Strongman of Cambodia.
“The haggling among Mr. Son Sann, Mr. Sihanouk, and Mr. Khieu Samphan, traitors to the Kampuchean people, will come to nothing because they are working in their own interests,” the book quotes a 1981 release from the news agency of the PRK, for which Hun Sen at the time served as foreign minister.
Hun Sen also said in a televised speech in October 2005 that if King Norodom Sihamoni did not sign into law a controversial new border treaty with Vietnam, which Sihanouk had publicly criticised, it would be time for Cambodia to “reconsider whether we should keep the monarchy or change to a republic with a president instead”.
“It was the CPP’s high-ranking officials who used to threaten the throne,” Thomico said, dismissing Hun Sen’s claim the CNRP would portray King Sihanouk as a traitor. “That’s just demagogy.”