Prime Minister Hun Sen and former opposition leader Kem Sokha offered starkly divergent New Year’s messages to the Cambodian people, with the former hailing the Kingdom’s “stability” even as the latter grimly warned that recent democratic backsliding could lead to a “fragmented nation”.
In a Facebook post yesterday morning, Hun Sen wished Cambodians “happiness in the family, good health and fortune”, while reiterating that peace was a precondition for development – a common ruling party refrain amid the near-universally condemned crackdown on the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
“It is true, peace provides opportunities to people in celebrating national and international events, both at night and in daytime, without fear,” he said. “We jointly continue to protect the peace and maintain political and social stability perfectly to push the development of the country forward.”
Meanwhile, CNRP President Kem Sokha, who is languishing in a remote prison on charges of “treason”, released a letter looking back at 2017 as a year of “serious political crisis”, replete with democratic setbacks, the shuttering of numerous independent media outlets, restrictions on civil society, land grabs, ecological destruction and the detention of politicians and activists.
“Those problems originate from the leadership that leaves the democratic path, and it is the root cause for most Cambodians living in poverty,” he said. “Those are the dangers for Cambodian society, and they can lead to the more fragmented nation, instability, and become worse if the government does not agree to promote the democracy and human rights.”
Sokha’s party – which won about 44 percent of the vote in the 2013 national elections – was summarily dissolved in November at the government’s behest for allegedly fomenting a foreign-backed “revolution”, though little evidence of the purported conspiracy was ever produced.
Despite the widely shared assessment that the government’s moves to dismantle its only legitimate electoral competitor just months before national elections constituted a massive blow to Cambodian democracy, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday insisted that there was “no political crisis”.
He went on to characterise Sokha’s New Year’s letter as an attempt to “cheat, counterfeit and confuse the national and international community” for his own political gains. “No fragmentation in Cambodian society [happens],” he said.
In his letter, Sokha also appealed to Cambodians to adhere to the principle of nonviolence, before calling for free and fair elections in 2018 and expressing hope that the deviation from the democratic path was only temporary. “What I hope is that [I can say], ‘Today Kem Sokha has concerns, but in the future, Cambodians have to be happy’,” he said.
Sokha’s predecessor as CNRP president, Sam Rainsy, also took to Facebook to deliver a political New Year’s message of his own.
“For Cambodia as a nation I wish – and with my CNRP colleagues we all will strive to ensure – that the Cambodian people will start to see the light of democracy and justice in 2018,” he said. “Among our first tasks, we will fight even harder to reverse the political crackdown by the Hun Sen government on Cambodian patriots and democrats.”
If this didn’t happen and the CNRP was not allowed to run in 2018 elections, he said there would be “unprecedented events” in Cambodia. “We will ensure that such a situation leads to the freedom of the Cambodian people from the current anachronistic dictatorship and the movement of Cambodia towards modernity and progress,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, meanwhile, called on both parties to sort out their issues through dialogue. “If you have a conflict with each other, at New Year’s, [you] all together should have willingness with hearts and words to unite the nation, peace and understand each other as one,” he said.
But the CPP’s Eysan maintained that as the dissolution of the CNRP was carried out in accordance with the law, no political negotiations with the dissolved opposition party would follow.