PRIME Minister Hun Sen warned on Monday that his critics would be struck by lightning if they dared to suggest his leadership was plunging the country into poverty.
Speaking at the announcement of the General Population Census of Cambodia 2008, the premier defended his record.
"[They] say Cambodia is getting poorer and poorer, but aren't they afraid of being struck by lightning?" he said, insisting he had led the country back to wealth since the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
He challenged dissenters to swear their statements were true - or risk the wrath of nature.
"[People] who insult [the January 7 liberation], they are still alive because of who?" Hun Sen said.
"If you dare to say it and be struck by lightning, go ahead."
Opposition politicians dismissed the rhetoric, saying poverty levels could not be ignored.
"We have 14.5 million people [in Cambodia] and 6 to 7 million of them are poor," said Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.
Kem Sokha, head of the Human Rights Party, said the government had failed to provide for its people.
"[Hun Sen's regime] is better than Pol Pot's time, that is true, but it does not conform to people's needs," he said, referring to food, shelter, employment, education and health care.
"These five points, our government has still not met successfully. Let [the prime minister] swear: Can he do it?"