As residents of Phnom Penh flocked to the city’s hotels and restaurants to celebrate the international New Year, complete with fireworks over the riverside, the prime minister took the occasion to celebrate order, while opposition leaders hoped for a new order.
With many in Cambodia embracing the Western holiday, Prime Minister Hun Sen posted photographs to Facebook of himself and first lady Bun Rany dining with the king and queen mother along with a New Year’s message.
“May the year of 2017 bring peace, prosperity and good luck to all levels of Cambodians at home and abroad,” he wrote, “Please enjoy and travel safely everywhere.”
“Thank you to all authorities nationwide that take care to maintain order for our citizens,” he added.
Opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha released their own statements to mark the New Year, wishing for an end to injustice and a smooth road to this year’s commune election.
“I wish to pray for all bad incidents that occurred in Cambodia and have happened to all Cambodians in the past, please completely disappear,” Mr. Sokha wrote in an official statement released on New Year’s Eve.
“Especially, please Khmer politicians unite to improve the political climate for the journey to the 2017 commune election in order to reflect the real will of Khmer people,” he added.
Set to be held on June 4, the commune elections will be the first real test of political sentiments since the 2013 national election, which saw a newly united opposition party make huge gains against the CPP.
Mr. Rainsy, posting on Facebook from Paris, where he is living in exile, said he missed “fellow citizens and family that are suffering due to all sorts of injustices like land and housing evictions, including all sorts of harassment that is hurtful.”
“I would like to pray…for all Cambodians from all parties and political tendencies to agree, compromise and hold hands to become one enormous family to protect our nation forever,” he added.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, however, was not inclined to start holding hands with the opposition leader, who is banned from returning to the country and faces seven years in prison if he were to return.
“Let Sam Rainsy say whatever he wants. He’s done now. He’s outside society. There are court verdicts,” he said. “He can’t even vote or stand for election.”