The prime minister lashed out at journalists and analysts today for questioning the current government’s reform record, a seeming reference to a Post article from December about a speech in which he touted his administration’s progress.
The premier’s critique comes as the government has embarked on its harshest crackdown on dissent in recent memory. The campaign has seen the critical media outlets shuttered, civil society monitored and the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the only viable challenger to Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party – summarily dissolved at the government’s behest just months before upcoming national elections.
The December article quoted Hun Sen as saying his government had initiated reforms across multiple sectors and would make a final push to complete any reforms promised after the 2013 national elections. In the article, analysts and experts acknowledged that some reforms had taken place, but noted that the major issues of corruption, protection of natural resources and social justice issues had been on the back burner.
Speaking to garment workers today, the premier said reporters and analysts were quick to judge his government, which was attempting to tackle the nation’s problems, something he said no one was above.
“I would like to inform all the analysts and writers: all of you have to remember that even in your life, your family’s, your wife’s or your children’s, there are challenges,” he said.
“No problem can be solved completely. Every country has its own problems. Even the US, which is an economic power country, still has problems,” he added.
He then specifically targeted local and international analysts, whom he said did not have the technical wherewithal to comment on complex administrative issues, calling them “stupid scholars”.
“Do not call them scholars, but stupid ones. It is more suitable. They are not economists, so you should call them foolish scholars,” he said.
He then touted his more than three decades as head of the government, which he said made him the most qualified to address and tackle the country’s impending reform needs.
Analysts, he added, had not tried to solve the country’s issues as he and his ministers had, and were not qualified to comment on such matters.
Critical voices in the Kingdom have been severely curtailed. Since August, more than a dozen radio stations were abruptly shuttered, purportedly for selling airtime to independent broadcasters like Radio Free Asia, Voice of Democracy and Voice of America without informing the Information Ministry.
Meanwhile, the often critical Cambodia Daily was handed an “astronomical” $6.3 million tax bill and given a month to pay it or shut down. The newspaper was forced to close in September after 24 years of fiercely independent journalism.
And, in early 2017, political commentator Kim Sok was jailed for claiming on a radio show that Hun Sen bore responsibility for the 2016 murder of revered political analyst Kem Ley, who was himself frequently critical of the ruling party.
Political commentator Lao Mong Hay said the premier was lashing out to distract from the very real issues being pointed out by observers and even ordinary citizens.
He added that government seemed reluctant to accept “constructive criticism”, and that the premier’s warning had made him even more fearful of potential repercussions for expressing his views.
“Powerful people have material means and forces to oppress or punish us. We usually worry about that,” he said.
Accountability advocate San Chey, who was quoted in The Post article as saying the approach to reforms had been a mixed bag, said a democratic society and government needed to be open to criticism, as it was one of the basic fundamentals of freedom of expression.
He said he was not particularly concerned about the premier’s statement, saying a commentator shouldn’t be viewed as “stupid or clever”, but simply considered “an actor contributing to social development” – as should members of the general public.
“It does not mean that all people need to be a minister” to contribute, he said. “When there is a doer, it requires the observer.”
Updated: Thursday 4 January 2018, 6:54am