In the middle of what observers and experts have described as a sustained legal, political and, at times, physical onslaught against the opposition, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called for parties to refrain from attacking or insulting their opponents in the run-up to the June commune elections.
Speaking at a school inauguration in Kratie province, the premier said there needed to be a civil environment free of antagonism ahead of the elections, before adding his own thinly veiled legal warning to those who indulged in “insulting” other parties.
“To avoid conflict is to not insult each other. Each party can raise their own policies, but do not discredit others,” he said, while noting that “some words should not be said because those words are not allowed by law”.
Pivoting to the elections, Hun Sen also called on Cambodian citizens to continue their support of the Cambodian People’s Party, adding that a vote for the party was a vote for “development and maintenance of peace”.
Reached yesterday, CNRP deputy director of public affairs Kem Monovithya said in an email that the CNRP had consistently pushed for all parties to focus on policies rather than engaging in “mud slinging and personal fights”.
“It’s not even entertaining anymore to the public; it’s gotten old and off putting,” she said.
Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, meanwhile, said Hun Sen’s statement was patently “hypocritical”.
The premier’s admonition comes in the wake of a litany of incidents deemed attacks on the opposition CNRP, which has also seen multiple members jailed and convicted, including party president Kem Sokha and exiled former president Sam Rainsy.
The CNRP has also found itself the target of a campaign of leaked private phone calls, many of them of a highly personal and embarrassing nature, which have raised fears of phone tapping, though the CPP has distanced itself from the leaks.
Attacks on the opposition have also crossed into the physical realm, with two CNRP lawmakers viciously beaten outside the National Assembly in late 2015 by a mob led by members of the premier’s Bodyguard Unit. Three members of the unit received largely suspended sentences for the attack, and, upon their release, were also promoted.
During Sokha’s extended stay at the CNRP headquarters, armed Bodyguard Unit troops descended on the site, patrolling the street adjoining it and buzzing the building with helicopters and patrol boats. At the time, the unit’s head, Hing Bun Heang, said he had the right to maintain security, and criticised the CNRP’s plans to create “insecurity” and “disorder”.
But CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday echoed his party leader’s statement, saying it wasn’t the ruling party’s culture to attack or insult any party. He also blamed the CNRP’s legal hassles on their own refusal to follow the law.
“For a fact, there is no pressure on the opposition party. The CNRP themselves have committed wrong and then legal action was taken,” he said.
All of the opposition lawmakers convicted over the last year and a half were sentenced on the basis of public remarks they had made, and Ou Virak noted yesterday that what constituted an attack or “insult” would depend entirely on the ruling party’s interpretation, adding that any ruling party was bound to be criticised on its track record.
“It hugely depends on who get[s] to decide and when and whether it’s convenient to do so,” he said in a message. “If that is a no-go area, then you will see the playing field tilted in favour of the incumbent.”
Like the premier, the CNRP’s Sokha also asked party supporters on Sunday to fight the upcoming commune elections on policy rather that engaging in verbal spats, striking a more conciliatory note in Banteay Meanchey yesterday, saying both parties had wide support bases and would see an even contest come June.