On a visit to Turkey, Prime Minister Hun Sen likened the political situation in Cambodia to that of the Middle Eastern power, comparing what the government has labelled an opposition “colour revolution” with a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.
The government has regularly reiterated that the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had engaged in a colour revolution with the assistance of the US. The party was dissolved by the Supreme Court last November.
On July 15, 2016, a coup d’etat in Turkey against Erdogan failed. The attempted coup was blamed on a faction within the Turkish army.
The Turkish government accused the coup leaders of being linked to the Gulen Movement, led by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish businessman and cleric who resides in the US.
Turkey has branded the Gulen Movement as a terrorist organisation since 2013.
During the prime minister’s visit to the country from Saturday to Monday, the two nations signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the fields of culture, education, sports, agriculture, water resources, tourism, investment and mine clearance.
The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said both sides were determined to increase bilateral trade to the value of $500 million over the coming years.
Speaking to students there on Sunday, Hun Sen said the political situations in Cambodia and Turkey were similar. He made the comparison of both experiencing movements that attempted to topple legitimate governments.
“The most important goal is to improve [Turkish-Cambodian] relations in all sectors, especially regarding political confidence between both countries. This is a good point in our bilateral relations. Indeed, our situation is similar to Turkey’s."
“In 2016, there was an unsuccessful coup [in Turkey]. In Cambodia, [there was an attempted] colour revolution which forced the Cambodian government to act,” he said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of last month announced that Cambodia will open an embassy in Ankara next year to further Turkish-Cambodian ties.
During Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhon’s visit to Turkey earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked Cambodia to extradite three high-profile members of the Gulen Movement, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.
In 2016, the Turkish embassy in Phnom Penh requested the Cambodian government to close down Zaman International School and Zaman University in Phnom Penh because of their association with the Gulen Movement.
Ou Chanrath, a former opposition CNRP lawmaker, said whether or not there was a failed coup in Turkey – as this was something claimed by the Turkish government – it was different from the situation in Cambodia.
“In Cambodia, no one attempted to topple the government, so this is the difference [between the countries]. But regarding crackdowns on the opposition, it is the same,” he claimed.
Chanrath said building relations with foreign countries was a good thing, but he questioned what benefits would come from closer ties with Turkey.
In contrast to Chanrath’s comments, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said there had also been an attempt to topple the Cambodian government as had happened in Turkey, but it took a different form
“In Cambodia, their [opposition] movement uses democracy as the shield, but it is not out of respect for democracy."
“When we talk about democracy, we have made changes through elections for five mandates now, but [the opposition] has never recognised the election results and it has not respected the decision of the people,” he said.
Paul Chambers, a political analyst and international affairs adviser at Thailand’s Naresuan University, told The Post that Hun Sen was seeking legitimacy through populism and nationalism to legitimise his authoritarian rule in Cambodia, similar to Erdogan in Turkey.
“[The countries] are similar in the sense that each is ruled by a tyrant who has sought to excite people with nationalist, anti-foreign zeal."
“Both Hun Sen and Erdogan have been successful in cracking down on the opposition and stifling democracy,” he claimed.