Talk of war took centre stage at what was meant to be a chance for parties to discuss their policies ahead of Sunday’s commune elections, with a spokesman for the Cambodian People’s Party doubling down on threats of conflict made by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week.
Representatives of several parties competing for commune council seats met for a round table discussion on policy at the Royal Academy in Phnom Penh – but the topic quickly moved away from their promises and plans and towards the potential for violent clashes in Cambodia.
Echoing Hun Sen’s comments in a speech at a Christian community event on Thursday, in which he threatened to “burn down houses” belonging to the opposition, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the party would, if necessary, “use war to maintain peace and social and economic stability”, and to prevent challenges to the election result.
He accused the opposition of using the banner of “nonviolence” to hide policies he said could lead to serious and lasting conflict. “Some party leaders induce people to think that tycoons are bad tycoons and investors are bad investors and that all the rich people are corrupted,” he said.
“[They say] if they get the power they will distribute the wealth to the poor, and then there is the case of inducing people over the planting of border posts [on the border with Vietnam].”
“Could this lead to the war or not? Please think about it.”
In response, Son Chhay, a lawmaker for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said if Sunday’s commune vote and next year’s national election were run according to principles of free and fair elections, so the “people’s will is respected”, war could not happen.
Chhay said that the opposition, which unlike the government has no armed forces, would always be “patient” and promote peace and unity between Cambodians.
Funcinpec representative Phan Sith said that the notion of a large-scale “war” was impossible as one side held all the guns, though he allowed instability was possible. Grassroots Democracy Party official Sarm Sundoeurn urged participants to avoid the topic altogether.
“We think the word ‘war’ is no longer needed by the people, and the international community also does not need [this word],” he said. “So, please, do not be scared.”