With the July 29 national elections little more than a month away, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday called on political parties not to “insult” or “denigrate” other parties or their candidates.
In response, leaders of rival political parties maintained that “constructive criticism” is unavoidable and beneficial to the democratic process.
Hun Sen, president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), said on his Facebook page on Sunday that election campaigning would start in 20 days, and called on all political parties to behave “ethically” and with “dignity”.
“I call on all political parties and candidates to respect each other. Do not use insulting or disrespectful words. They must act ethically and [with] dignity. Please promote only your own [policies], and do not denigrate other political parties or their candidates,” Hun Sen wrote.
His message came after comments on Friday urging all politicians to behave like “vendors”.
“I think politicians should be like vendors who speak only about their own goods, and not speak badly of other people’s goods or create problems with other people,” he said.
However, Ou Chanrath, a former lawmaker with the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the Kingdom’s largest opposition party until its Supreme Court dissolution in November last year, said on Sunday that it is a basic right of political parties and candidates to express their opinions.
“I believe positive campaigning is better, but people should be allowed to express their opinions because it’s their right to do so,” he said.
Yang Saing Koma, co-founder of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), agreed that political parties should not attack each other, but said constructive criticism helps strengthen the democratic process.
“I agree with the prime minister saying that we don’t need to attack each other, especially making accusations, as we should compete on the strength of our policies. But we also need to talk about the pressing issues and find solutions to them. For example, regarding health and agriculture, we need to address weaknesses in policy,” Saing Koma said.
“Criticism is unavoidable. The important thing is we need to maintain good ethics, “he said.
Going further, Pich Sros, the president of the Cambodian Youth Party (CYP), asked what the point was of having new political parties if they couldn’t criticise the government.
“If we can’t criticise the ruling party for their inaction, then why create different political parties in the first place?
“We criticise weak leadership in the government. And which party leads the government? Of course, it is Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party. So criticism is unavoidable,” he said.
“And the prime minister himself has attacked and denigrated other parties. The prime minister used to attack the Cambodian Youth Party, for example. Criticism is unavoidable, but I would encourage constructive criticism,” he said.
Political analyst Meas Nee said he also believed criticism helps strengthen the political process in a healthy democracy.
“Competition aids development. In order to have political development, we must criticise weaknesses in policy. If you are scared of criticism then you shouldn’t be allowed to use the word ‘democracy’,” he said.