Interior Minister Sar Kheng told provincial security forces in Kratie on Thursday to remain vigilant for any opposition activity in the run-up to July’s national elections, while also warning that a popular opposition movement would only come about from the government’s failure to cater to people’s needs.
“We must join together to keep, protect and strengthen peace, sovereignty and political stability,” he said. “That is the main condition for supporting the process of multiparty liberal democracy and socioeconomic development.”
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of new Kratie Governor Va Thorn, Kheng warned that revolution would only be possible if the people are dissatisfied with the government, though he maintained that the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which secured 44 percent of the popular vote in the 2013 elections, was an illegal entity attempting to sow chaos.
The CNRP was forcibly dissolved last November at the government’s behest for allegedly fomenting a foreign-backed “colour revolution”, though little evidence has ever been presented.
Kheng on Thursday said the decision was right and lawful.
“The competent authorities . . . must pay attention to prevent and take legal action against any activities that attempt to make Cambodian society fall into chaos [and] turmoil,” he said.
However, he noted that any successful anti-government movement would be “born from our inactivity or weakness – from a small issue becoming a big issue”.
“Therefore we need to check even the smallest problem, from the tip of our hair to the tip of our toes,” he said.
Kheng maintained that the Cambodian People’s Party has ruled successfully for decades because it has served the will of the people and made no major mistakes.
“There have been some small mistakes, but they are not serious and it is not dangerous for the country,” he said, going on to call for reform at all levels of government.
“I am not blaming but we need to study and learn what we have done that may have made them not vote for us,” he said.
This is not the first time Kheng has called for government officials to look inward to find the causes of unrest in Cambodia. In 2016, he also warned that government “inactivity” could lead to revolution.
At the time the comments were in stark contrast with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s own rhetoric, which has laid the blame for popular discontent at the feet of criminals and foreign powers.
Paul Chambers, a Southeast Asia expert and lecturer at Naresuan University, said the comments reflect a “personal judgment that the Hun Sen government cannot simply take the people for granted”.
“If it is Sar Kheng’s standpoint, then this could reflect a distancing of opinion between himself and Hun Sen.”