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Hun Sen offers free fares as ‘gift’ to nation

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Hun Sen boards a ferry boat in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Hong Menea

Hun Sen offers free fares as ‘gift’ to nation

Cambodian People’s Party president Hun Sen appeared publicly for the first time on Wednesday after declaring a landslide victory in Sunday’s national elections, and offered a “gift” to the people after Cambodia had a “great year”.

Presiding over the official launch of Phnom Penh’s new ferry service, the caretaker prime minister spoke of the accomplishments his party had brought to the Kingdom, even as former opposition leaders played down his claims of bringing about progress.

Arriving at 7:30am to address supporters and journalists, Hun Sen left 20 minutes later aboard the ferry, which makes stops in the capital before heading to Kandal province’s Takhmao town.

The leader stopped to take selfies and answer questions, before saying that the water taxi service, as well as the newly launched rail services from Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town to Phnom Penh, would be available free of charge for the rest of the year.

He claimed these were gifts to the Cambodian people for a “great year”.

“This year, we had great success in economic progress, and also major developments in other areas, such as democracy and peace in our country.

“So I have decided to make the use of the taxi boat service from here to Takhmao free of charge,” he said.

“I am going to delay [the taxi boat charges] until the end of the year. Those who use it will do so for free. But from January next year, the taxi boat charges will apply.

“Second, the railroad from Phnom Penh to Poipet ... we will also delay charging until early next year. This is a gift to the people to celebrate a great year of successes in society, and for the economic and political progress of Cambodia,” he said.

Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP lawmaker, claimed that Hun Sen had indeed accomplished successes, but that the country itself had not shared in these.

“It’s been a huge success for him as he’s able to maintain power, but we don’t know for how long and what difficulties he might face. [But, I don’t see the CPP’s election win] as a success for the country. It might bring with it some negative impacts,” he said.

He welcomed the government’s offer of the free travel on the transport links to the capital but claimed the people’s livelihood would still be affected because of previous government actions.

“We will face international sanctions and economic and political pressure [because of the nature of the elections]. They could impact people’s living standards in the future.

“Secondly, I think it has negatively impacted human rights because people were not happy with the elections. Their will was obscured, and this seriously affected the people’s political rights,” he said.

Political analyst Hang Vitou also welcomed the caretaker prime minister’s offer but urged reform in the government’s next mandate.

“I think the two gifts are good for the Cambodian people, especially the poor … but there are more important gifts other than free taxi boats and trains. The biggest gifts the government [can give] are deep reforms to tackle corruption, an unjust judicial system, issues regarding the elections and our democracy,” he said.

The ferry service was originally planning to charge when it began operating on Wednesday. It is expected to soon add an additional stop in Prek Pnov, in the north of Phnom Penh, after a port is built there.

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