In a heated speech broadcast on state-run TVK on Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the ruling CPP must defeat whatever opposition alliance might emerge as part of SRP leader Sam Rainsy’s proposed “Democratic Movement.”
Hun Sen said the CPP must work hard to undermine the proposed alliance with strategies similar to those used to defeat the Khmer Rouge, comparing the situation to 1979, the year the regime was ousted.
“We must fight back…. We must start now just like we played with the Khmer Rouge,” Hun Sen said during an Agriculture Ministry conference in Phnom Penh. Despite his bellicose rhetoric, however, Hun Sen said his party will use “peaceful means” to defeat the opposition.
“We play with political parties, we do not kill people…. We never declare anyone as our enemies, they declare us as their enemies,” he said.
Hun Sen also said that while the government is busy reducing poverty and helping the people, other parties spend their time criticizing the government.
Sam Rainsy, who announced his proposed opposition alliance Thursday in the wake of his party’s strong gains in the recent commune elections, said Hun Sen’s speech shows that he feels threatened by his plan for the movement.
“Hun Sen is afraid of regime change and he is scared of the movement,” Sam Rainsy said. “Hun Sen’s regime has destroyed the people’s livelihood[s], it has devastated the country,” he claimed.
Sam Rainsy also said he does not view the CPP as an enemy, but as the competition. The CPP should also not view legitimate democratic opposition as a military-style threat, he added.
“We are not enemies, we are competitors,” he said.
Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Channtha said the united opposition movement will campaign in a peaceful and legitimate manner. NRP leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh has said he will likely join the Democratic Movement, according to his adviser Ok Socheat.
“We unite democrats to solve national policy issues such as corruption and illegal immigrants,” Muth Channtha said.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, the general delegate of the Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party who has thrown his support behind the alliance, said he did not feel threatened by Hun Sen’s words. Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero declined comment on Hun Sen’s speech.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the Constitution guarantees the right to form a political movement.
“The law gives rights to political parties to form alliances to compete with other political parties,” he said.
The proposed movement could pose a real challenge to Hun Sen’s ruling party in the 2008 national election, Koul Panha said.
Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho, said she doubted Hun Sen feels threatened by the opposition movement after such a strong showing for the CPP in the April 1 commune elections.
The strategy of the CPP in the past has been to divide any opposition that challenges it, she said.
“The opposition has to show the ability to unite,” she said. “That is a big job.”
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Tomei)