Four months away from commune elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday ordered authorities to arrest any politician caught committing the “obvious crime” of falsely promising to clear debt people have accrued through private loans.
The premier did not identify anyone in particular. However, in 2015, the recently reinstalled leader of the royalist Funcinpec party, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, told reporters he would make a sacred promise to the spirits at Wat Phnom to “cancel the debt of all the people” as he tried to rally support.
Speaking at a pagoda in Phnom Penh, Mr. Hun Sen blasted politicians who claimed they could cancel debt accumulated through microfinance institutions—which he said people often think are state-owned—if they are elected.
“Some political parties and politicians have said that they will cancel the debts if they win the election,” he said. “Do not expect that.”
“The political parties should not play around with this. If it’s considered to be an obvious crime, arrest them at the scene, because they cheat [people].”
Mr. Hun Sen said that such a pledge could only be fulfilled if a revolution dissolved the country’s constitutional monarchy and created a new government, like the Khmer Rouge.
Furthermore, he warned, promising to cancel debt “in exchange for votes” would increase poverty, as it encourages more people to borrow money they cannot pay back.
Funcinpec’s spokesman Say Hak declined to comment on the remarks.
Mr. Hun Sen also said all microfinance institutions must start displaying banners to clarify that they are private and not state-owned, and tell staff to spread the message to clients.
Chea Phallarin, CEO of Amret Microfinance Institution, agreed that some people “from the countryside” do not properly understand microfinancing.
Mr. Hun Sen warned that any institutions not displaying a banner “must be forced to close, otherwise people will continue to confuse them with state institutions and [think] they owe money to the state.”