Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed a group of Cambodian expatriates in New York on Thursday, calling for an end to politically divisive rhetoric and assuring them that he was speaking as a government leader who represented all Cambodians, not as a party politician.
However, he also took the opportunity to lambast the CNRP, reviving the accusation that the opposition party had plotted to overthrow him in a “color revolution” during mass demonstrations following the disputed 2013 national election.
Mr. Hun Sen is on a three-day trip to New York, where he will address a U.N. summit on Saturday. On Thursday, he held a formal reception to meet with about 200 Cambodians living in the U.S. and several other countries. He told the audience that while other politicians’ mistakes had led many Cambodians to emigrate in the past, the country was now thriving under his leadership.
“I am delivering this speech as a government leader, not as the CPP president, to inform compatriots living abroad that Cambodia is walking on the right path for development in all sectors,” he said.
The prime minister also called for an end to political slurs, asking Cambodians to embrace their commonalities and focus on the future.
“Please, stop smearing each other, meaning that we should not care about the past as we all have the same Khmer blood,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen then launched into a critique of the CNRP, saying that the opposition party had abused the “culture of dialogue” —his and CNRP President Sam Rainsy’s name for the political detente they negotiated earlier this year.
“The culture of dialogue created by me and His Excellency Sam Rainsy does not look good, because the other party is exploiting it politically to serve the party’s interests rather than the people’s and the country’s interests,” he said.
“The culture of dialogue was created [because] the toppling through so-called ‘people’s power’ couldn’t succeed via a color revolution,” he added, accusing CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha of seeking to oust him.
“Kem Sokha said, ‘If [he] doesn’t step down, [he] will shake until [he] falls down. When I shook hands with Kem Sokha, I asked, ‘What does it mean to shake until one falls down?’ Kem Sokha replied to me, ‘Hmm, Samdech, I have always admired you in the end.’ And I told His Excellency Kem Sokha, ‘It’s lucky that Your Excellency didn’t do it. If you had, that day would have been Your Excellency’s funeral.’”
Mr. Sokha could not be reached Friday. Mr. Rainsy said he preferred not to offer a direct response to Mr. Hun Sen’s comments, but denied that the CNRP had ever sought to violently overthrow the government.
“I am not responding to anybody, but I give a general view,” he said. “I say the CNRP has never had any intention of using violence or encouraging illegal activities. We treat all Khmer as Khmer and don’t consider any Khmer as an enemy.”