Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday used his penultimate speech before the official election campaign begins Thursday to recount some of the toughest moments his administration has faced since he won the last election in 2008.
Speaking at the inauguration of a pagoda building in Kampot province’s Angkor Chey district, Mr. Hun Sen said that the three most difficult issues faced by the government over the past five years were high inflation during the global financial crisis in 2008, tensions along the Thai border during the same year and destruction caused by typhoon Ketsana in 2009, when more than 60,000 people were forced from their homes.
With just more than a month until the national election, Mr. Hun Sen told the assembled audience that he hoped his reaction to major crises would convince voters who did not support the CPP in last year’s commune elections to cast their ballot for him as prime minister in July.
“Please let me explain the difficult decisions that have been made under my leadership. Today I shall illustrate to the public, officials and people how the role of prime minister is different from the role of provincial governors, district governors, ministers and commune chiefs that grandmother and grandfather voted for last year,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen said that only 63 percent of voters in Kampot province cast their ballot for the CPP in last year’s commune elections, and urged the largely elderly audience in attendance Saturday to carefully consider which party they would support in the coming elections.
“The wrong decision will be a disaster,” he said, briefly reiterating numerous claims he has made over the past two months that if the CPP were to lose this year’s elections, the country would fall back into a state of civil war.
“There were three things for us to solve, first was the world financial crisis,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “This crisis did not have only a small impact on us. The government had to respond to these difficulties to ensure a stable macro-economic environment and prevent inflation.”
By subsidizing private companies supplying basic services such as electricity and water, Mr. Hun Sen said that his government successfully prevented wider inflation. “We passed through these difficulties through vigilant management of the economy,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen then said the second major success of his administration was in preventing what he called a Thai “invasion” into Cambodia in 2008 from turning into an all-out war.
Mr. Hun Sen said that after Thai troops crossed into contested territory with Cambodia on July 15 that year, he called together senior members of his government to discuss possible options, which included an immediate attack against Thai troops on the border.
“As a former soldier who has experienced the battlefield 105 times, been wounded five times and blinded in one eye, the blood flowed into my heart when I heard they invaded our sovereignty,” Mr. Hun Sen.
But given the potential risks of entering into a battle with Thailand two weeks before a national election at home, Mr. Hun Sen said that he allowed cooler heads to prevail.
“This decision was a decision to avoid war. If it was not Prime Minister Hun Sen, we would have had a different situation,” he said, adding that he had instead sought to settle the dispute over Preah Vihear diplomatically through the U.N. Security Council, Asean and the International Court of Justice.
Since July 2008, Mr. Hun Sen has been less successful at mitigating casualties on the border. Cambodia fought Thailand in a number of deadly skirmishes on the border while Abhisit Vejjajiva was prime minister from 2008 to 2011. Relations have warmed since Yingluck Shinawatra was elected in 2011.
Lastly, Mr. Hun Sen lauded his party’s quick work rehabilitating areas in central Cambodia that were wiped out by typhoon Ketsana in September 2009, which killed more than 40 people.
“We saved the people affected by flooding, rehabilitated irrigation networks, roads and bridges that were damaged by flooding,” he said.
Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann agreed that Mr. Hun Sen had been successful in maintaining economic growth during the global economic slowdown, but said that the wealth has not been evenly distributed, and the prime minister has failed to address wider issues such as land grabbing and the destruction of natural resources.
“You can see the gap between rich and poor is widening from year to year…. You can see violations of human rights, land grabbing and destruction of natural resources. These kinds of problems are getting worse. We agree with economic growth, but 7 million people are living under the poverty line, earning less than $2 a day,” he said.
And on the Thai border conflict, Mr. Sovann said that Mr. Hun Sen had finally followed the advice of opposition lawmakers, but could have avoided millions of dollars and numerous lives in ensuing clashes had he taken the dispute to international arbiters earlier.