Former Australian Ambassador Tony Kevin on Thursday counseled political opposition leaders to exercise restraint.
In a lecture sponsored by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, Kevin criticized opposition leader Sam Rainsy for promoting “a powerful negative international consensus view of Cambodia.” He said the international attention Rainsy attracts has been counterproductive and damaged national self-esteem.
“By continuing to devote attention to his international traveling, rather than working in Cambodia as a parliamentary opposition leader, he wastes his potential,” Kevin said to an audience of about 90.
Sam Rainsy is in the US meeting government officials, according to his cabinet.
Kevin, who was Australia’s ambassador to Cambodia from 1994 to 1997, is a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University. After the July 1997 factional fighting in Phnom Penh between forces loyal to then Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Kevin drew criticism for calling Hun Sen “a democrat at heart.”
In his lecture, Kevin denied that he is a “propagandist for Samdech Hun Sen.”
In April, the World Bank apparently withdrew its nomination of Kevin for its top post in Cambodia. Sam Rainsy spokesmen adamantly opposed the nomination.
Kevin declined to comment on the incident.
Kevin also criticized members of the international community for their unwillingness to recognize “in their hearts” the legitimacy of the government elected in the July 1998 elections.
He defended Prime Minister Hun Sen against allegations that he “seized power by force” in July 1997 when his forces routed those of rival and coalition partner, Prince Ranariddh.
“All evidence suggests that he is a pragmatic leader who since the late 1980s has wanted to modernize Cambodia along market economy and democratic pluralist lines, and that he strongly supports Cambodia’s 1993 constitution and political institutions,” Kevin said.
Kevin said he hoped politicians would act in a way that reflects a “social and political consensus” and “respect and honor” for their political opponents. Politicians should be respectful enough to invite each other to tea—“but it is difficult to invite someone to tea when he keeps calling you a traitor,” Kevin said.
The lecture was the most recent in a series of Southeast Asia-focused speeches sponsored by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.