The president of the Norodom Chakrapong Proloeung Khmer Party railed against the military Tuesday, claiming that high-ranking military officials are heavily influenced by political affiliation.
“This is the Kingdom of Cambodia, but in reality, they still manage the country like a communist system,” said Prince Norodom Chakrapong, a former soldier who spent 30 years in the military.
“The army stays around Phnom Penh to defend the ruling party,” he said.
With the national election less than two weeks away, several small parties have raised concerns about the military’s inability to protect disputed border areas and curb illegal immigration.
Although observers acknowledged that the CPP heavily influences the military, major parties dismissed the idea that the army would stage a coup d’etat if the ruling party loses the election, saying times have changed.
“The international community will not support any coup,” said Funcinpec’s co-Minister of Defense, Prince Sisowath Sirirath. “Cambodia was born out of the Paris Peace Accords. If Cambodia fails, the UN fails. All support from donor countries would be lost.”
Soldiers and police officers are not allowed to wear army uniforms at polling stations, according to the Ministry of Interior’s spokesman, General Khieu Sopheak, a CPP member.
Police and army bases already have a schedule, he said, of who will go vote and who will guard the bases.
“A coup is impossible because all parties have agreed that the winner and the loser depends on the results of the vote,” Khieu Sopheak said.“Whoever loses, that will be the decision of the people, and the losing party must respect the will of the people.”
The most glaring reason the army is stationed primarily around Phnom Penh is because the defense budget has been cut consistently for years, a trend that Prince Sirirath said most likely will continue.
“The Defense Ministry has its hands tied,” Prince Sirirath said. “We are not allowed to recruit new soldiers or acquire new weapons. After 20 years of war, Cambodia has seen enough suffering. The international community does not want to see the military take a big role.”
Political disputes have riddled RCAF since its creation in 1993. Initially, the army comprised
60 percent of Hun Sen’s forces,
30 percent of Funcinpec’s, and
10 percent of Khmer People’s National Liberation Front.
In July 1997, factional fighting unseated Prince Norodom Ranariddh as first prime minister and left Hun Sen as the head of government.
Claiming that Cambodia has not seen peace since Lon Nol uprooted then-prince Norodom Sihanouk in a 1970 coup, Prince Chakrapong called for an independent military.
“If you belong to a party,” he said, “you cannot be neutral.”