Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed on Wednesday that political rival Sam Rainsy’s “clean hands strategy”, the aim of which is to persuade supporters of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to boycott July’s national elections, is “faulty” and will only benefit the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Rainsy, meanwhile, said Hun Sen’s rule will soon come to an end. He compared it to the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who recently won an election marred by irregularities and a low turnout.
Rainsy, a former president of the CNRP and current president of the Cambodian National Rescue Movement (CNRM) – formed after the CNRP’s demise – said on his Facebook page on Tuesday that the Venezuelan opposition’s call for an election boycott was successful.
This, he said, was because only 47 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls on Sunday. He called for those who supported the CNRP to do the same to keep “one’s hands clean” by not participating in an “unfair” election process.
On Wednesday, when addressing nearly 2,000 garment workers in Kampong Speu province’s Chbar Mon town, Hun Sen derided Rainsy’s “clean hands strategy”, saying it is bound to fail because the CPP has an asset that the South American country doesn’t.
“You must remember clearly, open your eyes wider and wait for July 29. You wait and see . . . there is one major difference between Venezuela and Cambodia, and that is the members of the CPP. Just the members voting is enough to win and guarantee a higher turnout [than in Venezuela]. You remember this . . . your ‘clean hands strategy’ is faulty.”
The prime minister said over 5 million out of some 8 million registered voters were CPP members. This, he said, is more than enough to ensure the turnout is higher than 50 percent.
However, Hun Sen said he hoped all registered voters, CPP supporters or not, will turn out to participate in the elections.
He also touched on a familiar theme – that the opposition has been trying to topple the government since losing the 2013 national elections – and mocked its protest following that loss.
“In 2013, among a population of 15 million, how many thousands participated in the protest to topple government? You failed then, and you will fail this time, because you can’t lead while living abroad,” Hun Sen said. “This time your body and bones are broken and buried.”
Rainsy, who has lived in exile to avoid criminal charges that he and his supporters claim to be politically motivated, took to his Facebook page to compare Cambodia to Venezuela.
Maduro is deeply unpopular in the South American country as he has overseen the decimation of the economy and is accused of being responsible for the country having the world’s highest inflation rate, leading to severe shortages of food, medicine and items needed for everyday life.
On Sunday, he won a new mandate, but because of election boycotts called for by the opposition, many Western countries, particularly the US, are not recognising the results. The US is also now mulling new sanctions against Venezuela.
Describing Venezuela’s polls on Sunday as “fake”, Rainsy said: “Dictators always hold fake elections to stay in power. But in the last election [in Venezuela], most people followed the appeals of the opposition parties to boycott the election,” he wrote.
“The international community does not recognise the result of the fake election in Venezuela and condemns them while putting pressure on the dictatorship.”
Election expert Sam Kuntheamy, who is director for the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Nicfec), said Cambodia does not have a law dictating that turnout has to be a certain percentage to be declared legitimate, but if turnout is low, the world may see it as illegitimate.
“Although, there is no law, in reality, the international community looks at voters’ will. How will it look if the percentage of turnout is lower than 50 percent?” Kuntheamy asked.