Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday took a swipe at a recent democracy report that labelled his regime “authoritarian”, before declaring no one is capable of “toppling Hun Sen besides Hun Sen”.
The premier, speaking at an engineering graduation ceremony, criticised the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2017, which downgraded Cambodia from a “hybrid regime” to an “authoritarian” one, and ranked it at 124 out of 167 countries.
“Today, I see it is published that Cambodia is an authoritarian regime. Their group of writers is only five people,” he said, adding that they made their evaluations on preconceived agendas. He said it was ludicrous that countries that drop bombs on other nations were deemed more democratic than Cambodia.
“I have stood firmly since the age of 25 to lead a resistance movement until now, and it’s still continued in its strength,” he said. “There’s no one toppling Hun Sen besides Hun Sen.”
The irony was not lost on ex-opposition deputy Mu Sochua, who said the statement proved the point made in the report.
“The Great Leader is speaking but he forgot he lost most of his audience,” she said.
The EIU boasts more than 100 expert analysts and economists. One of them, EIU lead analyst Miguel Chanco, said at least 10 were “assessing the state of democracy in Asia alone”, and there were countless others globally.
“We employ the same rigorous criteria to gauge the health of democracy in Norway, Sweden and Denmark as we do with the likes of Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam,” he said in an email.
“The major events of the past twelve months – the controversial amendments made to the Law on Political Parties, the arrest of Kem Sokha and the dissolution of the CNRP, and the attacks on broadcast and print media (to name a few) – resulted in a significant deterioration in Cambodia’s score.”
“That the prime minister lashed out strongly against our latest assessment highlights an underlying insecurity about the true state of Cambodian democracy. Let’s just say he isn’t the first strongman to question the credibility of an independent – and critical – piece of study.”
Former Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Ou Chanrath said it was not new for the government to claim an international report was “biased towards the opposition”. “This government says it is not authoritarian, but it is on the edge,” he said.
“If he is open to real democracy and a proper opposition who has the ability to compete, there will be change.” Lee Morgenbesser, a researcher on authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia at Australia’s Griffith University, said “Hun Sen’s latest rhetoric flurry actually highlights the recent errors of his rule”.
“This a stunning statement from Hun Sen; a self-inflicted wound that undermines much of the recent propaganda pushed by the regime,” he said in an email.
“Firstly, it confirms that elections in Cambodia are not (and never have been) an event designed to be expression of popular consent,” he said, adding that if citizens cannot vote out the ruling party, then Cambodia could not qualify as a democracy.
“Secondly, it confirms that the accusation against the CNRP of trying to foment a coloured revolution is pure fiction. If the opposition cannot oust Hun Sen via mass protests (i.e., “topple him”), then the various criminal charges against it are merely a pretext for repression.”