Senior leaders of the ruling CPP held their annual congress in Phnom Penh over the weekend and said the ruling party was stronger and more popular than ever heading into July’s national elections, while accusing government critics of seeking to drag its reputation down by any means possible.
The upbeat party message comes amid claims that the next election is likely to be the least fair in the 20 years since the U.N. organized the first post-war vote in 1993.
“During the past five years, the CPP has continued to expand and strengthen its achievements in politics, people’s minds, and in control, which builds on the party’s ability to lead the country,” CPP and Senate President Chea Sim told some 2,000 party members gathered on Koh Pich for the two-day congress on Saturday.
“I would like to thank all of the party’s leaders as well as officials and members at all levels for gradually achieving the party’s policy,” Mr. Sim said.
Outside the conference hall where the congress was taking place, the ruling party’s obvious political and financial success was on display in the shape of some 2,000 luxury SUVs, and a smattering of high-performance sports cars, lined up in neat rows and tended to by diligent chauffeurs and hundreds of uniformed, armed bodyguards. Inside, Mr. Sim praised his party for bringing peace, stability and growth to the country.
Taking the podium after Mr. Sim, Prime Minister Hun Sen—dressed in a casual suit set off by a bejeweled belt buckle adorned with a dazzling gold dragon—laid out the people’s party vision for the next five years.
Without offering specifics, he said the CPP would improve its diplomatic relations with unnamed countries, strengthen its military capabilities and invest more in social welfare. He then proceeded to take aim at unnamed “opposition groups and ignorant groups,” blaming them for going far and wide to discredit the CPP.
“With support from outside and encouragement from ignorant groups, they continue to have bad intentions against the CPP,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “To gain power, they are trying various activities both open and secret, legal and illegal, anywhere and anyplace…to defame the party [CPP] and to destroy the good relations between the party and its partners.”
“They take advantage of some of our weaknesses and shortcomings in developing the country to attack us,” he continued. “They keep dishonoring us with the public over democracy, human rights, land, borders, corruption, forestry, poverty, social injustice and free and fair elections.
“They call out to the international community, to donors, to put sanctions on Cambodia.”
Mr. Hun Sen also accused an unnamed group of activists of trying to “incite and gather people into a movement to fight against the government, like in Thailand and some Arab countries.”
Though avoiding any specific references, Mr. Hun Sen may have been alluding to an alleged secessionist movement in Kratie province last year.
The Phnom Penh Municipal court in October convicted 14 people, including independent radio station owner Mam Sonando, of taking part in the alleged rebellion. Amid widespread condemnation of the case as trumped up and politically motivated, the Appeal Court on Thursday dropped the secessionist charges against Mr. Sonando. He was set free the next day and was given a hero’s welcome on the streets outside Prey Sar prison by hundreds of his supporters.
Taking over from Hun Sen on Saturday, Finance Ministry Secretary of State Ouk Rabun went on to say that there had been a 14.13 percent jump in the number of CPP members since 2008 to 5.9 million party faithful. Cambodia’s population is around 14.8 million.
Mr. Rabun also urged government officials not to campaign during working hours in their government uniforms or with government resources, a common criticism of the ruling party and its election tactics by the opposition and independent election monitors.
Despite the appeal made by Mr. Rabun, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia said last week that this year’s national elections were shaping up to be the least fair since the U.N. sponsored vote of 1993.
The assessment followed on the heels of its latest report, which described “an increasingly fragile state of democracy,” a weakening multiparty system and persistent limitations on public participation in the political process.
The European Parliament and the U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia have also urged the government to allow opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, who faces about 10 years in jail in Cambodia, freedom to return to the country unmolested to contest July’s elections.
At the end of the party congress on Sunday, the CPP issued a statement endorsing Mr. Hun Sen once again as its candidate for prime minister. The party also announced that CPP standing committee member Sim Ka had been elected to take over as chairman of the standing committee’s financial committee from Chea Soth, who died in January 2012.