Cambodian civil society groups have called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to act responsibly to resolve the various social ills plaguing the country following his much publicized act of paying fines on Friday for violating traffic laws by riding a motorbike without a helmet.
During a trip on June 18 to Sre Ambil district in southwestern Cambodia’s Koh Kong province, Hun Sen boarded a motorcycle taxi without putting on a helmet, according to a video clip posted on Facebook.
He then asked the driver, who also did not wear a helmet, to sit behind him on the motorbike, which had no license plate. Several of Hun Sen’s bodyguards followed behind them as the prime minister drove over a bridge.
After much public criticism, Hun Sen apologized on social media for his actions, and late donned a helmet when he boarded a motorbike with a man sitting behind him in the capital Phnom Penh on Friday.
Trailed by several bodyguards, he drove to a police station in Daun Penh district to pay a 15,000-riel (U.S. $3.66) fine for not wearing a helmet during his previous motorbike ride and a 30,000-riel (U.S. $7.32) fine for riding a motorbike with no license plate, according to photos he posted on social media.
“For the wrong deeds I committed, I have been fined,” he later wrote on his Facebook page.
“My parliamentary immunity, my bodyguards, and my tens of millions of supporters could not defend my wrong deeds,” he said, taking a swipe at leaders from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who have complained about being stripped of their parliamentary immunity as Hun Sen’s government pursues court cases against them.
Rights groups and the international community have blasted Hun Sen for resorting to such measures to silence his critics through courts that favor his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Following Hun Sen’s act of contrition at the police station, civil society members called on him to address and remedy the country’s chronic illegal logging and deforestation activities and provide an explanation for a human stampede that occurred in November 2010 on Koh Pich bridge in the capital Phnom Penh. More than 350 people stranded there were killed and about 750 others injured.
They also want him to address the killing of striking garment factory workers by military police on the capital’s largely industrial Veng Sreng Street in January 2014 along with the brutal beating of two opposition lawmakers by his bodyguards last October.
A good example, but…
Independent political analyst Kem Ley praised the prime minister for paying the fines, saying it set a precedent for other leaders and future leaders to be held accountable to the law.
But he added that he would like to see the prime minister show responsibility for the continued deforestation of the country’s woodland and other problems.
Cambodia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, largely due to illegal logging. A report issued last year by London-based environmental rights group Global Witness found that government and military officials collude with businessmen to illegally cut and transport Cambodian timber mainly to China.
“As for the deforestation issue, the prime minister just promised to step down,” Kem Ley said. “But it mustn’t only be a resignation from the post; he must ask the court to investigate why the deforestation continues.”
Sarn Chey, executive director of the Civic Alliance for Social Accountability (ANSA) said he wants to see Hun Sen act responsibly and resolve both the small and the large issues affecting Cambodia.
Criticism of his actions on social media forced Hun Sen to pay the fines for violating traffic law, he said, but he hopes that the prime minister will now continue to be brave and assume responsibility for any government-related projects that have not gone very well.
Reported by Tha Vuthy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.