Prime Minister Hun Sen confidently announced April 23 he would solve a host of economic problems, but warned the nation could slide back into political chaos if his party, the CPP, did not win national elections this July.
Sitting center stage at the head of a retinue of top government officials, Prime Minister Hun Sen opened this year’s annual Government-Private Sector Forum with an announcement that his finance minister, Keat Chhon, had a laundry list of obstacles hobbling commerce in Cambodia.
He then confidently pronounced to the April 23 gathering of hundreds of foreign and Cambodian business people that, “the prime minister will solve all of these problems.”
Over the next several hours an animated Hun Sen bellowed, joked, cajoled and criticized his way through a characteristically earthy performance usually reserved for building political capital with farmers in some distant province.
But this time he was playing to a crowd of mostly private sector leaders, bluntly soliciting for their backing in upcoming national elections … or else.
“In Southeast Asia no one has been longer in premiership than Hun Sen. But I also need to win the election … I need private sector support,” he said.
“If I lose (and there is instability) you might have to flee the country,” he warned, drawing together business and politics ahead of national elections on July 27 in which the economy is likely to play a key role.
“If I lose (and there is instability) you might have to flee the country.”
– Hun Sen, PM
Cambodia’s economy has averaged double-digit growth during the past three years, which despite an expected dip this year, is likely to remain one of the most vibrant in Asia, driven by a galloping tourism sector and an unprecedented building boom that has transformed the capital’s low-slung, sleepy capital.
Foreign investment in particular has taken off, fueling the construction sector with several megaprojects planned around the capital. But inflation has climbed to record highs, driving up the cost of consumer goods such as food and gasoline, and leaving many of the country’s poorest even more desperate.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party general-secretary Eng Chhay Eang said Hun Sen’s threats were meant to coerce support for the prime minister’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“I doubt whether there could be a civil war when so many CPP members are rich and want to protect their property,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Vong Sokheng and Cheang Sokha)