Seemingly in clear breach of his government’s own law banning political propaganda in academic institutions, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday told grade 12 students in Takeo province they should vote for the CPP in upcoming elections, reminding the pupils they were “learning under the schools of samdech”.
In an exchange at Hun Sen Bun Rany High School in Bati district – labelled “inappropriate” by a youth activist – the premier first probed the students on who they would vote for in the election, after asking if they were old enough to cast a ballot.
“For samdech,” the teenagers replied in chorus, using the prime minister’s royally bestowed title, which translates roughly to “lord”.
Agreeing with their response, the premier continued: “Yes, you have been learning under the schools of samdech; how come you don’t vote for samdech?
“Frankly speaking, how can you vote for the others when they have never built schools for you? Please help to tell your parents, too.”
Hun Sen’s comments come only two months after Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron released a statement reinforcing a 2015 directive banning all political activity in academic settings.
Naron – whose statement came after students in Pursat were given T-shirts proclaiming “I love the Cambodian People’s Party” to wear during a CPP event – threatened to fine or shut down institutions that violated the order.
However, the education minister was unreachable yesterday. Ministry spokesman Ros Salin, who requested that questions be sent via text message, did not respond by press time.
Responding yesterday, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he would not say whether the premier was “right or wrong”, but noted “the prime minister is higher than the [education] minister”.
He then added: “It is normal, because on behalf of the government, he is the prime minister, and for the CPP, he is the chairman. During the conversation between students at school . . . he cannot avoid such a conversation to ask students to vote . . . However, it is up to the public to make a decision whether it’s wrong or right.”
Since 2003, some 4,000 schools have been built with private funds and named after the premier and his wife, according to Eysan, who said the donations made up for the state’s limited resources.
However, responding yesterday, CNRP spokesman Eng Chhay Eang slammed the conflation of state and private resources and their “exploitation” for the ruling party’s political gain. “Cambodians who witness this can make their decision who to vote for,” he said.
A youth advocate for the Grassroots Democracy Party also lamented the confusion created between the prime minister’s role as a government representative and his party advocacy, calling yesterday’s comments “inappropriate”.
“The more important message should be to encourage students to prepare themselves as human resources for the nation; it would be much better than asking for the votes from the students,” said the advocate, who asked not to be named because of agreements with his employer.