Report of Politics In Flood Relief Prompts Order
Prime Minister Hun Sen angrily demanded Tuesday that the CPP and its coalition partner Funcinpec keep its members from speaking to the press in a speech that attacked media reports claiming recent flood relief efforts have been hijacked by his ruling party.
The CPP’s Peou Samy, who is secretary-general for the National Committee for Disaster Management, was also targeted by Hun Sen. Though he denied in press reports that aid efforts were politicized, Peou Samy was still told to be quiet or risk losing his job.
“I am the boss,” Hun Sen said.
The prime minister’s criticisms came after a Cambodia Daily article in which an opposition party parliamentarian contended that because no Sam Rainsy Party members were present during aid handouts, the CPP was able to use the floods to push its political agenda in the countryside.
The article quoted Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Serey Kosal as saying he did not understand why his own party members have not been invited on relief trips to the provinces, a remark that drew a terse call for more intra-party control from Hun Sen.
“I will ask [Funcinpec] to prevent Serey Kosal from speaking to the press,” Hun Sen said, adding that one of the officials on Tuesday’s aid distribution in Svay Rieng province was indeed a Funcinpec member.
“Serey Kosal, please understand me, please do not talk to the press. We are a coalition government, we work together, we go together. Shut your mouth. And CPP officials…be silent,” Hun Sen said.
But Serey Kosal responded Tuesday that he would continue to speak out, despite Hun Sen’s orders, saying, “When things are good, I say they are. When they are wrong, I say they are wrong.
“I accept [Hun Sen’s] proposal and welcome his speech, but it is my freedom to speak,” he said.
Funcinpec Secretary-General Tol Lah did not say Tuesday whether any restrictions would be placed on his party members, adding that he had not heard Hun Sen’s speech and had nothing to say.
Peou Samy, who has spoken repeatedly to the press about flood conditions, refused Tuesday to speak with The Cambodia Daily and could not be reached for comment by other news agencies.
Media expert Norbert Klein said conditions do exist that allow the government to regulate what civil servants say to the press—such as threats to national security—but added he was surprised by Hun Sen’s comments Tuesday.
Overall, Klein said, Cambodia has allowed more press freedom than many of its Asian neighbors. “Time and again we are surprised by the freedom we observe here,” he said.
One western diplomat pointed out that opposition members were technically not part of the government and perhaps shouldn’t be included in government relief efforts. But he questioned why Funcinpec didn’t have more of a role.
Hun Sen denied that aid efforts were being used to widen his party’s sphere of influence, and claimed he would be criticized for whatever response he made to the flooding, which has ravaged large parts of the country.
“When I get to the needs of the people, I’m accused of trying to gain political advantage, and if I do not go, the government will be accused of being useless,” he said. “This is not election time and I do not speak for votes.”
But one Asian diplomat said Hun Sen’s well-publicized aid efforts will have the desired political effect during the 2003 national elections.
“He is showing [the CPP] are the ones who got the aid from the international community and delivered it,” the diplomat said.
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)