Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday again raised the specter of instability should his ruling CPP be voted out of power in July’s national election.
“I appeal to all people to keep what they have in their hands right now—not to have the same history as the coup in 1970,” the prime minister told a crowd at a bridge inauguration in Kratie province.
“Peace is in your hands…. It is up to you. If the people vote for me, there is no war; you don’t have to run into the trenches,” the prime minister said, marking the third time since December that he has addressed the possibility of instability in the wake of a CPP loss at the ballot box.
Hun Sen also condemned “people power” protests: “I don’t mean that you cannot change [leaders]. Any changes must comply with the democratic process, not by people power. People power should be used through the ballots.”
SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said the prime minister’s words constituted a “threat” against the voting public.
“This comment could scare people,” he said. “People want to change their leaders, [but] when people hear about war [they] might decide against their will.”
SRP Deputy Secretary-General Mu Sochua said that any violent instability after a CPP election loss could only be produced by the CPP.
“Only the CPP can wage war. Only the ruling party controls the soldiers and the police,” she said, adding that the prime minister’s words seem to go against his previous promises to peacefully transfer power if another party triumphs in the election.
Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said Hun Sen’s remarks would have a “negative” effect on the voting process.
“We should not be surprised by the comment,” she said, adding: “It is a threat; people will vote [CPP] due to intimidation.”
After turning his attention from election-related issues, the prime minister raised the issue of royalty in politics. In a likely response to claims made recently by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Hun Sen claimed that an unidentified prince was using his royal title as a screen to hide behind while attacking the prime minister.
“If you do politics, do not rely on your title as a prince,” Hun Sen said. “If you are involved in politics, I will attack you regardless of whether you are a prince or princess.”
Hun Sen then moved on to take issue with calling royal family members by their royal titles when they work for state institutions. There are six royal family members in high-ranking government positions and another six in the legislature—nearly all of them members of the CPP’s coalition partner Funcinpec.
“I would like to eliminate the language of ‘prince’ and ‘princess’ inside the National Assembly, Senate and government,” Hun Sen said. “There is not equality in terms. We are protecting the monarchy, but those who are politicians must not have other privileges.
“You attack people, [but] when someone attacks you, you claim you are royal family members.”
Royal family members contacted Tuesday disagreed with Hun Sen’s remarks.
“I do not agree; I do not want to argue,” said Princess Sisowath Santa, a lawmaker for Funcinpec. “Our country has a King. Royal family members, even though we are working in politics, are still royal family members.”
Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Funcinpec’s second deputy president and a government adviser with a rank equal to a senior minister, said Thai royal family members participate in politics but are still addressed by royal titles.
“We should keep the old Khmer tradition,” he said. “Khmers know small and big people and people’s classes—the Khmer language is very rich.”
Muth Channtha, spokesman for the royalist NRP, claimed Hun Sen’s comments were an attack on the institution of royalty in Cambodia.
“It is his intention to eliminate the monarchy,” he said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said he supported the prime minister’s view on royal titles, saying the title Excellency is fitting for all government leaders, regardless of their ancestry.
“We have equal rights,” he said. “We do not want the royal family to engage in politics.”