Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen renewed his threat to seize properties belonging to opposition Candlelight Party members and others who accuse him and the ruling party of stealing last year’s local elections.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, made the threats on Monday while speaking at the opening ceremony for National Road No. 7 in Kampong Cham province, targeting Candlelight Party advisor Kong Koam.
The Candlelight Party secured around 19% of votes in last June’s nationwide local elections while Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party secured around 80% of the contested seats.
“What do you think? I want to ask you. There are two choices, one is using the law, the other is using a stick [violence]. Which one do you take?” Hun Sen said during the speech.
“I would like to warn you, we will not let you accuse us of being thieves for life. I want to tell you that we must end the culture of protest after the election,” he said. “The CPP cannot accept the word ‘vote fraud’. Whoever dares to say this, we must sue.”
Kong Koam’s son, Kong Monika, a senior official of the Candlelight Party, said that Hun Sen’s remarks threatening his father are meant to instill fear among the opposition.
“The threats, blackmails and the seizure of other properties’ to stop them from criticizing the government and ruling party are dirty means,” Kong Monika said.
“For me, as a politician of the new generation, I want to see older politicians in Cambodia act as role models for the new generation of politicians, and the next generation of politicians can compete on an equal footing and have a free and fair electoral system,” he said.
Activists and citizens told RFA that the legal threats will only serve to worsen the political climate ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for July 23.
“[Hun Sen] became a dictator, who uses the law as a tool to persecute the opposition. Because he is afraid of losing the election through free and fair elections,” former opposition lawmaker Oum Sam told RFA.
“He is afraid that he will not successfully transfer power from him to his son, Hun Manet,” he added.
Hun Sen has repeatedly dodged questions about whether he is setting up his son to succeed him as prime minister, but many in Cambodia fear that Hun Manet will take office after his father is no longer in office.
Courts used by Hun Sen
Cambodia’s court system has long been dominated by Hun Sen loyalists, and the prime
minister has repeatedly used the judicial system to target his political opponents.
In one of the more prominent examples, Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has challenged Hun Sen’s leadership in previous elections, has been barred from returning to Cambodia. The government has also targeted opposition members it accuses of supporting Sam Rainsy’s return.
The Candlelight Party was formed by various opposition groups seeking to compete in Cambodia’s communal elections. Previously, the Cambodian National Rescue Party was the main opposition, but it was dissolved by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017.
Dr. Meas Ny, a Cambodian social development researcher, told RFA that Hun Sen’s strategy could eventually backfire.
“The ruling party should review its conduct, whether the results of such threats can gain popularity from the masses or not. Sometimes it does not mean that suppressing such threats is profitable,” Mean Ny said. “Sometimes the more frequent the threats, the greater the loss of popularity, and the concerns of the ruling party will only get worse in the future.”
He added that the CPP’s suppression will likely continue in the runup to the 2023 elections.
Courts in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh ruled in favor of the CPP’s defamation claim against Candlelight Party Vice President Son Chhay after he told “The Cambodia Daily” that the 2022 election was rigged.
The courts ordered Son Chhay to pay damages of more than U.S.$1 million to the CPP and the National Election Commission. Son Chhay refused to pay, saying he stood by his right to make those comments. The courts then ordered the seizure of his two houses, one in Phnom Penh and another in Siem Reap. Son Chhay has since filed an appeal to Cambodia’s Supreme Court.
Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Nawar Nemeh. Edited by Malcolm Foster.