Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday reiterated a threat voiced by a cabinet minister earlier this week that anyone protesting the results of next year’s elections would be “smashed”, adding that he wouldn’t allow a repeat of the chaos that engulfed the capital during the 1997 factional fighting.
In a wide-ranging speech to athletes departing for the Southeast Asia Games in Malaysia, Hun Sen said he told senior CPP officials at a meeting last week that he would not tolerate any demonstrations after next year’s elections – and that parties protesting would face dissolution.
“I will smash [you], so do not act disorderly. And [he] who wanted to be vice president of the National Assembly and then held a demonstration will be smashed, and I will not allow it,” he said, apparently referring to self-exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
Earlier this week, Social Affairs Minister Vong Soth – allegedly conveying private remarks made by the premier – warned that the government would use bamboo rods to bludgeon anyone who protests after next year’s election.
Hun Sen yesterday acknowledged having said he would “hit” protesters, going on to vow that he would not allow any “anarchy” in the streets like during the 1997 clashes between his forces and those loyal to his political rival and Co-Prime Minister Norodom Ranarridh.
“The Law on the Political Parties is to avoid the bloodshed and, speaking frankly, without the law, [they] will make anarchy,” he said, adding that he did not want to be pushed to a point where he had to use military force.
On the subject of anarchy, Hun Sen pivoted to the US, saying they had created chaos in countries such as Libya, Syria and Iraq – something he would never let happen in Cambodia.
“For me, I will not allow another to destroy our nation and happiness,” he said.
Noting that he had a grandchild who was a US citizen and the superpower’s proclivity for military interventions, he said he would try to “remove” the grandchild’s US nationality to prevent any attempts to draft the child in a future war.
The premier also appeared to take aim at Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, who on Wednesday had called for the sacking of Soth for his “bamboo stick” remarks. Obliquely referring to him as a “US citizen”, Hun Sen told the human rights advocate to “keep his country’s anarchy” away from Cambodia.
In response, Robertson yesterday said the premier’s tactics were straight out of a dictator’s playbook, and accused him of playing the “blame the messenger” game.
“But what PM Hun Sen fails to appreciate is the more he calls for violence, the more he loses the democratic legitimacy that he so keenly wants to obtain from the forthcoming 2018 election,” he said in an email.
Regarding the violent rhetoric and threatened reprisals against protesters, Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Cheam Channy yesterday said peaceful demonstrations were integral to a democracy, adding that the opposition would not simply “shut their mouths” when they saw injustice.
“This is a threat,” he said, while noting that such comments were nonetheless not out of the ordinary. “For me, this is not strange.”