In a stark departure from his party’s rhetoric regarding the dangers of so-called colour revolutions, Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday acknowledged that authorities’ “inactive management” can give rise to popular discontent and urged a new focus on stopping injustice.
Addressing his ministry’s top brass at a ceremony to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the National Police, Kheng said understanding what causes popular movements like colour revolutions was a “key issue” the government should study in order to prevent one from happening here.
Kheng argued that while initiating a colour revolution in Cambodia would be “unreasonable”, such movements are borne out of populist sentiments, and suggested authorities focus on addressing their own shortcomings.
“A movement, or colour revolution or people’s revolution, can happen because of our own inactive management,” Kheng said, adding that although the government had “worked hard” towards peace, it must strive to “get rid of any inactivity”.
“If people criticise [and say] that the management of the forest is not good, we need to solve this, to improve it justly, in line with the law,” he said. “We should not crack down on other people when we do things wrong; we are not being responsible – this is called injustice.”
The forthright remarks come amid what critics say is a CPP crackdown against its political opponents, with an alleged affair by Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha used as the pretext for a slew of legal cases.
As protesters have dubbed their campaign “Black Monday”, some in the government have been quick to compare the movement to a colour revolution, a term often used to refer to largely non-violent popular movements that have toppled regimes in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
Calls to suppress such movements have become a staple of ruling party rhetoric, which has sought to characterise anti-government critics, including the opposition party, as threats to national stability.
In his speech yesterday, Kheng said establishing justice was a key foundation to stability, adding that no one, not even the premier, was above the law.
“The prime minister is also considered as a citizen and he needs to live under the law,” Kheng said. “The generals are also people but when their cars are inspected they say ‘don’t you see my four stars or three stars’, but when people come dressed in rags we hurt them. When people carry a cart of wood we fine them, but the ones with many truckloads, why don’t we fine them? Therefore they call it injustice, and what they say is not wrong – this is a problem.”
Yesterday, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann welcomed Kheng’s comments, saying the opposition also wants “to solve the problems, we want to study the root of the injustice in society”.
Some observers yesterday suggested the remarks were a sign of discontent within the Cambodian People’s Party as political tensions rise in the Kingdom.
Sebastian Strangio, author of the book Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said the minister’s outspokenness was a reminder of differences of opinion within the ruling party, though he conceded it was hard to read minds.
“The CPP has never been a monolithic organisation . . . so I think during this period of crackdown, you’ve seen the pre-existing differences and schisms come to the surface, through the comments of key individuals,” Strangio said, noting Kheng’s close links to the late CPP president Chea Sim, a factional rival of Hun Sen.
“Kheng’s comments seem to be unusually outspoken in his opposition to Hun Sen or his opposition to the trajectory of the current crackdown.”
A political observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Kheng’s comments appeared a clear call for calm amid the tense political climate. “This should be clear to both sides, if everybody steps back a bit and does their jobs respectively, we will find a way out peacefully.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Kheng simply wanted to shift focus away from talk of colour revolutions to address other issues. “His message is everyone has to serve the people, don’t abuse the people,” Siphan said. “He’s just reminding them to do a good job.”