Ignoring the fatal shooting of protesters by state security forces, mass demonstrations after flawed national elections, and crippling strikes, Prime Minister Hun Sen called the past 12 months peaceful and stable in a Khmer New Year message distributed this week.
Mr. Hun Sen’s long-ruling CPP officially won the poll in July last year. But the opposition CNRP has accused it of stealing the vote through rampant electoral fraud, and local NGOs that monitored the vote said unresolved irregularities made it impossible to know whether the poll offered a fair reflection of voters’ will.
In the days and months that followed the vote, tens of thousands of people marched through Phnom Penh demanding that Mr. Hun Sen step down, and seven people were shot dead by security forces at protests, including at least two bystanders.
But Mr. Hun Sen painted an unequivocally cheerful picture of the Year of the Snake, which drew to a close with the start of Khmer New Year festivities yesterday.
“This election was conducted democratically, with many parties and by the rule of law, and which according to national and international opinion was evaluated as free and fair with good security and without intimidation or violence,” he said in a statement posted to the Council of Ministers website, which was also distributed by local media.
The prime minister said the government was making good progress with its overarching “rectangular strategy” for the country and continuing to grow the economy at an impressive rate.
“The Year of the Snake is over, and the Cambodian government has successfully implemented the Second Rectangular Strategy by maintaining peace, political stability, social safety, public order, sovereignty, financial and macroeconomic stability and by overcoming the floods and financial crisis,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
Cambodia weathered the global economic downturn without a recession and has since regained one of the fasted rates of economic growth in the region. The World Bank recently forecast another strong year for Cambodia in 2014, with growth expected at 7.2 percent.
CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua, the party’s head of public affairs, said the past year was anything but peaceful and stable with ongoing land disputes between poor farmers and well-connected firms, and protests for higher wages put down with bullets.
“That is not our definition of peace,” she said. “The past year was a year of total change, a year the people of Cambodia gave a clear signal to Hun Sen that his time is up. The people used ballots, [which] Mr. Hun Sen returned with bullets.”
Ms. Sochua noted the fatalities on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Street on January 3, when military police shot haphazardly into crowds of garment workers protesting for a higher minimum wage, killing five and injuring more than 40.
“To him [Mr. Hun Sen], stability is only when he is in power,” Ms. Sochua said. “But for us, we want true stability…and that will only happen when there are free and fair elections.”
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)