Hun Sen Lambasts ‘Mafia’-Like CNRP Over Political Deadlock

A blustery Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday used a speech at a National Fish Day event to lash out against the opposition CNRP, comparing the party to the mafia and suggesting it create its own country “on the moon.”

Just before helping release thousands of baby fish into Kdol Lake in Kompong Chhnang province, the prime minister—as usual not naming the party directly—accused the CNRP of trying to dictate terms in ongoing negotiations to break the political stalemate since last year’s national elections, even after losing the poll.

Mr. Hun Sen and his long-ruling CPP officially won the elections, though the CNRP accuses the CPP of cheating its way to a win. The opposition has been refusing to take its 55 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly ever since, and negotiations to reach a power-sharing and election reform deal have been fruitless.

The latest snag has been the opposition’s demand that all future appointments to the highly politicized National Election Committee, which is controlled by officials aligned with the CPP, be approved by a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly. Mr. Hun Sen said again Tuesday that the demand was out of the question.

“We still leave the gate open to negotiate, but you are not to talk about two thirds,” he said. “You said if you do not get the two-thirds, you will not join [the Assembly]. I do not mind. Still you have not joined and I have not yet died, and the Cambodian people have not yet died. You do like the leaders of the mafia—you get the votes, you lose, and then you try to force us to follow you.”

Mr. Hun Sen said a two-thirds rule would only lead to more deadlock and “kill democracy in Cambodia.” The opposition insists it is the only way to ensure that the CPP does not continue to control the electoral system.

In recent weeks, Mr. Hun Sen has conceded to the opposition’s request for a television station to counter the CPP bias of most current broadcasters. The CNRP quickly dismissed this as a minor concession, and said it would have to be part of a package of far more extensive reforms.

“Now they say they don’t want it,” Mr. Hun Sen retorted Tuesday, “so you can go to create a state on the moon.”

The prime minister then issued something of a warning, saying the CPP was now lifting a self-imposed ban on its supporters against demonstrating, to match the CNRP’s own penchant for protests.

“Before I banned, but now I don’t,” he said, without elaborating.

The government banned protests in early January. The ban followed a series of CNRP marches around the city calling on Mr. Hun Sen to step down, and garment-sector demonstrations—some of which turned violent—calling for higher wages. The CNRP had endorsed the call for higher wages.

Citing unspecified reports, the prime minister also denied that the government was running short on funds to pay its civil servants and that foreign aid, whether grants or loans, had ever been used to cover public sector salaries.

“They thought we have used foreign aid to pay salaries,” he said. “In our life, we have never received foreign aid to spend on salaries, and there has been no country that gave us aid to spend on salaries.”

In fact, foreign donors had for a few years provided funds to supplement the salaries of some civil servants working on donor-funded projects, as a way to combat corruption and discourage them from skipping hours for more lucrative second or third jobs in the private sector.

According to those familiar with the effort, however, the supplements were discontinued because of infighting among government officials over how the extra pay was being divvied up.

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