Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Wednesday that he has convinced his deputy Kem Sokha to end his recent attacks on the government, hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the new “culture of dialogue” between the CPP and CNRP will be abandoned unless Mr. Sokha tones down his rhetoric.
Mr. Hun Sen on Wednesday slammed Mr. Sokha’s labeling of the ruling CPP as “communist” at a forum in Kompong Chhnang province on April 20, less than a week after Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Hun Sen celebrated Khmer New Year together in Siem Reap City.
“As I have said before, it is not enough if only Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy agree with each other. It requires all people,” Mr. Hun Sen said in a speech in Preah Sihanouk province Wednesday. “Hence, I would like to send a message: Please, Your Excellency Sam Rainsy, educate the inside of your party.
“If you can’t do this, it’s OK if we need to eliminate this culture. If it’s born and dies, let it die, because it got injured in Kompong Chhnang after it was born. We were born together in Siem Reap, but we got injured and died in Kompong Chhnang,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
The prime minister said he told Mr. Rainsy to bring Mr. Sokha in to line if he wants the culture of dialogue to survive.
“I told His Excellency Sam Rainsy the speech Kem Sokha made in Kompong Chhnang was not good. I told him he still uses the words ‘communism’ and ‘dictatorship,’” he said.
“I’d like to send an open message that I will dance based on the tempo of the music. If you want to dance at a slow tempo, I will dance at a slow tempo too. If you want to dance the madison, I will also dance the madison,” he said.
“If you want ‘boom boom,’ let’s do it,” Mr. Hun Sen said laughing, in an apparent reference to loud music.
“Now His Excellency Sam Rainsy must make a decision on whether to continue the culture of dialogue, or we must confront each other and have disputes,” he said.
Mr. Sokha, who is also the vice president of the National Assembly, could not be reached Wednesday. His cabinet chief, Muth Chantha, referred questions to the CNRP.
Mr. Rainsy said by telephone that he met with Mr. Sokha on Tuesday in Phnom Penh and persuaded him to tone down attacks on Mr. Hun Sen and the ruling party.
“We have decided…that the CNRP leadership unanimously supports the culture of dialogue. We both want that message to be clear,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“Our goal is to win the election, to come to power, to lead the country, and to bring about change. Nothing has changed but in this new framework, with this new mindset and culture of dialogue, we must respect our competitor,” he added.
“I think attacks and insults could be conducive to violence. We cannot expect only the CPP to change, and for us to remain exactly the same in our mindset and our way of speaking. Both parties need adjustments.”
In his speech, Mr. Hun Sen also recounted a talk he had with Mr. Sokha at the National Assembly on April 9, where he said he recounted a threat the deputy opposition leader made after the 2013 election to “build a ladder” for Mr. Hun Sen to use to stand down—or for the opposition to shake if he refused.
“Oh, is it nonviolence to shake a ladder to bring someone down?” Mr. Hun Sen said he had asked Mr. Sokha, before adding: “Your Excellency, you are lucky you didn’t do anything [more than hold protests]. If you did, this time would be the anniversary of your death.
“Do not forget that this is…the person who holds power, and who not only commanded the military but also created the military,” Mr. Hun Sen said, referring to himself. “If you want to wage war, that’s OK. Then you can seek a second Paris Peace Agreement, [but] we fight first.”
Mr. Rainsy said Wednesday he would not comment on whether such threats from Mr. Hun Sen are counterproductive to the culture of dialogue.
“I do not want to make any judgments on my dialogue partner,” he said. “I think it depends, above all, on our side not to leave room open for misinterpretation or misunderstanding.”
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said it was the opposition’s prerogative not to attack the government if it likes, but suggested that such a tactic would be helpful to the CPP.
“The ruling party in any country wants the opposition to not criticize them. It’s the classic position of a ruling party to calm you down by force, or to calm you down by any means to reduce criticism,” Mr. Panha said.
“It’s a tactic to make you look weak and make them look good. Without any criticism, they have a good image among the voters. In Cambodia, the ruling party used to be able to control the media, but now with social media, they cannot, so they move to this to reduce criticism,” he added.
“[But] how can you ask the opposition not to criticize the government or give alternate opinions, and how can there be a culture of dialogue without criticism?”