In a speech yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned other political parties that last week’s upheaval in Tunisia would not be repeated here and said he hoped for the death of the political opposition.
“Now there are people insulting me that I am in a position for so long,” Mr Hun Sen said at the opening of a hospital facility in Kompong Cham province. “Long or short, it does not depend on me but depends on the people.”
Apparently referring to recent comments reportedly made by Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, Mr Hun Sen rejected criticism that he had been in power “too long and that makes the other party weaker.”
“If you don’t understand it, don’t say it,” the premier said. He also repeatedly said he was working toward the utter disappearance of opposition parties.
“I govern not only to make the opposition party and group weak but to make the opposition group die,” he said. “If there were no Hun Sen’s palm, would Pol Pot have disappeared?”
Referring to protests in Tunisia, Mr Hun Sen said that he would take strong action if any such demonstrations were to happen in Cambodia.
“I would like to tell you that if you want to have a strike as in Tunisia, I will close the door and beat the dog this time,” the premier said.
Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s authoritarian president, was forced to step down on Jan 14, chased out of office by popular protests against corruption.
Kem Sokha, president of the opposition Human Rights Party, said yesterday that Cambodia needed opposition parties to remain a democracy.
“When he kills the opposition group, kills the political party and kills those who oppose, he kills democracy. There is no opposition party, there is no democracy,” Mr Sokha said.
The HRP leader added that Mr Hun Sen would not be able to silence those who love Cambodia.
“He can silence the opposition but not the nationalists,” Mr Sokha said. “I believe that the nationalists will never die. During all the time that repression has taken place, there are always people who stand up.”
Keo Phirum, Cabinet chief for the Sam Rainsy Party, declined to comment, referring questions to a party spokesperson and SRP President Sam Rainsy, who could not be reached. Members of the SRP are meeting in Manila this week with Mr Rainsy, who has been abroad to avoid imprisonment for criminal convictions he denounces as politically engineered.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said yesterday that Mr Hun Sen’s comments were about beating other parties in elections.
“I believe that whenever we have Prime Minister Hun Sen as deputy chairman of the CPP party, we still win,” Mr Yeap said. “We create the party to compete to rule the country and the people. If we create and we don’t rule, why did we bother to create it?”
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, declined to comment on Mr Hun Sen’s speech, saying he had not heard it. But he said that, in general, the government needed a “credible” and “accountable” political opposition.
“They have to play an important role as the democratic or open society needs,” Mr Siphan said. “We don’t need the opposition party to insult people, to harass people, to call people names.”
Mr Siphan added that both the SRP and HRP are guilty of these faults.
Mr Adams of Human Rights Watch could not be reached.
(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)