IN A rare public speech, King Norodom Sihamoni yesterday offered unstinting praise for the government and Prime Minister Hun Sen in their work protecting the Kingdom’s forests.
Speaking at a ceremony in Preah Sihanouk to mark Arbor Day, attended by more than 10,000 villagers, high-ranking officials and foreign diplomats, King Sihamoni thanked Hun Sen for the vast efforts he’d undertaken to protect the forests.
“I would like to admire Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Decho Hun Sen, the head of the government, who has put out specific measures in managing the forests in accordance to the principle of the law,” King Sihamoni said, reading from a prepared speech, only the second he has made since the death of his father last October.
“I always support the policy of protecting the forestry and wildlife, as it’s a blood line for agriculture and lives of the people,” he continued.
Sihamoni then appealed to foreign donors and development partners to assist Cambodia both financially and technically “so that the government can achieve its goal”.
The speech was given during a two-day trip in which he and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath were accompanied by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The pairing of monarchy and government raised eyebrows among analysts, who said there could be little doubt that the ruling party was trying to co-opt the royal family as part of their election bid.
“The government made an extra effort to take [the King] to the field, meet people in the field and their home . . . it’s bound to benefit the CPP,” political analyst Lao Mong Hay said.
Ostensibly an open government ceremony, it was clear from the images broadcast across the airwaves that “only ruling party officials went”, Mong Hay said. “It’s not a national event, it’s party dominated.”
And though the content of the speech was not overtly political, he added, “anything is political really in Cambodia, and the publicity of the event is liable to be broadcasted [as such]”.
“There’s the presence of the CPP leaders and all that. It’s what the CPP wants to show – the King – to attract the attention of the public.”
More than 2.5 million hectares of land has been leased by the government for Economic Land Concessions and vast swaths of protected forests have been reclassified and turned over for agro-industry as well.