Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday threatened to use military power to suppress any “people power” demonstrations against the CPP-led government before or after July’s national election.
Hun Sen claimed to have received intelligence information pertaining to planned protests, and said that protests are a cheap way to circumvent the law and that anyone who participates runs the risk of being arrested.
“Please do everything to comply with the law…. The shortcut is the people power. In Cambodia, you cannot do that. The real power is the election. It is not on the street,” Hun Sen said during a gift-giving ceremony at a disabled community in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district. His comments were broadcast Sunday evening on CPP-aligned Apsara radio.
“Do not provoke the problem. No matter how big you are. I will handcuff you. This is the law,” he said.
Opposition parties and local rights group Licadho expressed concerns that Hun Sen’s comments constitute voter intimidation and will undermine the integrity of the coming elections.
SRP President Sam Rainsy, whose anti-inflation rally on April 6 drew roughly 500 participants, said Monday by telephone that Hun Sen’s comments were unacceptable, and an attempt to sabotage an SRP march being planned for after the Khmer New Year holiday.
“This is a threat against demonstrators not to participate,” he said.
“This is showing that he is afraid. He does not believe in himself…. Those who are afraid of people power are dictators. Democrats are not afraid of people power,” Sam Rainsy said, promising to protest after elections if they are not conducted freely and fairly.
“There will be a big people power demonstration if people vote for change and the dictator stays,” he said.
Licadho President Kek Galabru said the law secures people’s right to peaceful protest, and that she was saddened by Hun Sen’s remarks.
“[Hun Sen’s] comments negatively affect election preparation. Prior to the election there must not be any threats…. I am sad because the law allows people to hold demonstrations and before the elections there must be the freedom to hold non-violent protests,” she said.
Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha also said that Hun Sen’s comments betray concerns that he could be ousted in mass protests.
If Hun Sen wants to avoid large-scale demonstrations, Kem Sokha said, he need only ensure that people are able to have their say in a truly democratic election and enact a two-term limit on the office of prime minister.
In his Sunday speech, Hun Sen added that he would not hesitate to combat anti-CPP efforts, either with pro-government demonstrations of his own or outright warfare when appropriate.
“If you talk about the wild law, you know Hun Sen. I attacked in 1997. If you want to wage war, Hun Sen will join you,” he said, adding that he remains a four-star general.
“Hun Sen can transform into a military figure. When Hun Sen orders the military, the military commanders know Hun Sen’s mind. I am a soldier,” he said.