Prime Minister Hun Sen and Yang Saing Koma, prime ministerial candidate for the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), verbally attacked each other for the first time over the weekend, ahead of the election campaign period starting July 7.
Saing Koma said of Hun Sen, the prime ministerial candidate of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), “there is fire”, while with the GDP, “there is [the] sharing of knowledge”.
Hun Sen responded by referring to his background in agriculture and mockingly calling him a “crop planter” that does not possess the ability to manage people or the country.
The verbal war between the two occurred after the GDP, on its official Facebook page on Thursday, accused Hun Sen of having a bad “temper”, favouring the use of force, having war experience, using a top-down control system, maintaining CPP structures in government institutions, and developing the country by depending on foreign funds.
While the post comparatively described Saing Koma as one who favours “knowledge”, has experience in developmental organisations, and favours democratic structures, erasing party structures in government institutions, and developing through internal means, not through foreign dependency.
On Friday, Hun Sen hit back, saying: “He is simply a person who knows how to grow vegetables. He doesn’t know how to manage people. He couldn’t manage [a country]. I know he owes people money. I know he wants to sell stuff, including rice-milling machinery,” he said mockingly.
“Who made him a PhD? Who made him an intellectual? He is comparing [Hun Sen], a candidate, [badly]. This candidate trained other candidates. Please acknowledge that.”
Saing Koma replied on his Facebook page, saying: “Because I am grateful for Samdech’s [Hun Sen’s] help, I am politically competing to bring policies that ensure peace, justice and sustainable development.”
He was referring to the prime minister’s past initiative of providing students with overseas scholarships to study for their PhDs, of which Saing Koma was a recipient who pursued his studies in agriculture.
“Most Cambodian farmers must have jobs and businesses near their homes which bring in a decent income. Elderly people in the village must receive state support,” Saing Koma said.
Continuing the war of words on Saturday at the opening ceremony of the Phnom Penh Safari zoo, Hun Sen claimed the GDP and Saing Koma had “mocked” him.
“However, in the end, he knows that I was the person who gave him knowledge. Sending him to learn gave him knowledge. Now, he says when I turn my eye, there is fire, [but] when he turns his eye, there is [the] sharing of knowledge. How much has he been sharing?” Hun Sen asked.
In response, Saing Koma told The Post on Sunday that it was obvious Hun Sen, as the CPP’s candidate for prime minister, would assert superiority over other parties.
“There is no one in the world who is born a prime minister. Everyone must gain experience in leadership. For example, Hun Sen was first a soldier. After that he became a general, then minister of foreign affairs. He learned along the way until he became prime minister.
“I am the same. I started by growing vegetables, then I became president of an NGO, which helped thousands of communities . . . I learn while I work,” he said.
Saing Koma attained a PhD in agriculture in Germany and is a former director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (Cedac).
Ou Chanrath, a former Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker, said whilst it was normal for politicians to attack each other, it may concern the people.
“The attacks are normal for politicians. As long as it’s not insults and threats, it’s common. Sometimes politicians verbally attack others, [stoking] tempers."
“When there are hot tempers . . . [it] benefits no one but raises the people’s concern,” Chanrath said.
Political analyst Meas Nee considered the verbal war between Hun Sen and Saing Koma as ayai, referring to a popular Khmer artform involving a comedic duel between performers that leads to big problems.
He said Hun Sen accusing Saing Koma of not being able to manage the country is “looking down” on someone with a PhD and who was the founder of the well-known NGO Cedac.
“It seems to look down on the younger generation, which is significant. As for the ayai . . . this has been happening for awhile. It won’t last long. [But] if the other side continues, it might lead to bigger problems,” he said.