Speaking two weeks after crushing opposition party demonstrations demanding his resignation, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday called on supporters of his ruling CPP to prepare to stand up against any group aiming to overthrow his government.
“All of you who voted for the CPP, be ready to oppose all acts that lack responsibility and have the characteristics of a coup,” Mr. Hun Sen said during a ceremony marking the opening of an orphanage in Kratie province.
“Having the intention to overthrow [my government] cannot be accepted,” he said, adding that anybody who wished to challenge his rule would not be “spared.”
Mr. Hun Sen also said that if his CPP supporters did decide to come onto the street, they should turn out in force.
“Previously, the CPP didn’t use the force of its supporters and members [to counter opposition demonstrations], and some people said that if the CPP comes out, there will not be so many people—like a handful of monkeys,” he said.
“Do you want to know or try a taste?” the prime minister asked.
“If Hun Sen comes out to do something, it’s not going to be small,” he said. “Action will be taken when it’s time to do it, so be clear about that. That’s not a threat, it’s the implementation of the law.”
On January 4, Mr. Hun Sen’s government sent civilian thugs —-armed with metal bars, axes and batons—-into Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park to clear away supporters of the opposition CNRP, including monks, who had been camped out there for two weeks to demand an investigation of July’s contested national election.
The opposition’s marches and demonstrations grew in size after merging with protests by garment factory workers striking for a higher minimum wage, and their joint calls shifted to demanding that Mr. Hun Sen resign.
Military police, deployed to suppress stone-throwing strikers on Pur Senchey district’s Veng Sreng Street on January 3, shot dead five garment workers and injured more than 40 others.
Despite his government suspending the constitutional right to freedom of assembly and demonstration two weeks ago, Mr. Hun Sen on Saturday insisted that a resolution to the ongoing political crisis between the CPP and CNRP must strictly adhere to the very Constitution he has suspended.
“Any demand that is contradictory to the Constitution is unacceptable,” Mr. Hun Sen said, adding that the CNRP should end their boycott of the National Assembly, which has lasted for nearly four months, in order to resolve the post-election deadlock.
“It has been so long, it should be enough,” Mr. Hun Sen said of the opposition boycott of parliament and concurrent demonstrations.
“Either you enter the National Assembly or it’s not your business,” he said, in what appeared to be a veiled threat that the opposition could lose its 55 seats in parliament, which Mr. Hun Sen has long threatened.
“Solving the problem must be done in the National Assembly. It can’t be done on the sidewalks,” Mr. Hun Sen added.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said his party had only ever held peaceful protests.
“What we have done so far is peaceful demonstrations to demand a peaceful solution to the political deadlock,” Mr. Sovann said. “It is not a coup d’etat, it is the freedom of expression, it is the way to open the way for a re-election.”
CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha said that the party would not be cowed by Mr. Hun Sen’s intimidation, and peaceful protests would continue if his ruling party did not agree to hold a re-vote. And without concessions from the CPP, CNRP lawmakers would not legitimize Mr. Hun Sen’s government by taking their seats in the National Assembly, he added.
“In the country, we are waiting for a political solution,” he said. “If it can’t be resolved and the CPP doesn’t agree to organize a re-election and launch an investigation into election irregularities, we will continue to hold demonstrations.”
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)