Without directly mentioning his name, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned opposition leader Kem Sokha that the government can arrest him at any time.
“It is just not the [right] time yet,” Hun Sen said during a speech at the Cambodian customs department on Wednesday. “You said that Hun Sen is afraid of losing the election, but you are in jail forever. No way out. I am telling you, the prisoner, do not be too insolent!”
Hun Sen was reacting to a recent interview Kem Sokha gave to Reuters, in which he said the prime minister was afraid of defeat in Cambodia’s upcoming elections.
“I read the Reuters’ interview saying that Hun Sen is afraid. Of what!?” the prime minister said. “The guy who is now [hiding] behind four-square walls? Come out.”
Kem Sokha has been holed up in the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) headquarters since heavily-armed police attempted to arrest him in May after he refused to testify in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with a young hairdresser.
The CNRP and its supporters claim the charges are a trumped-up attempt to damage the party ahead of elections slated for 2017 and 2018.
While Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party have ruled the country for more than three decades, Cambodia’s ruling party suffered a dramatic drop in support during the country’s last election in 2013.
"What he is scared of most is defeat in the election," Sokha told Reuters. "His strategy is to remove the opposition party leadership, so now he is targeting me."
‘Let it be on you’
Hun Sen also warned donor countries that grant funds to Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) against pressuring the government regarding the election process
“Cambodia dares to pay. Cambodia dares to play,” he said. “Let me inform those donor countries for the election’s registration, do not threaten that this issue will affect the registration process.”
He added: “If you do not help, let it be on you!”
Hun Sen’s warnings come as the CNRP lawmakers met with the party chief Sam Rainsy in Manila. Ou Chanrith, a senior party official, told RFA that the party still believes a peaceful solution to the showdown that has paralyzed Cambodian politics for all of 2016 so far can be worked out
“We will find a solution,” he said. “We will be able to sit down and talk to solve the national issue. The CNRP strongly believes that there will be a political solution.”
Land and jobs
While that may be possible, veteran CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said Hun Sen is missing the point with his rants.
“As we all know, the prime minister talked a lot concerning CNRP, but we understand that this is just his occasional rage,” he said. “We want to hear the prime minister’s ideas concerning the issues of unemployment and land conflicts.”
CNRP President Sam Rainsy has been staying in France or traveling since an arrest warrant was issued for him in November over a 2008 defamation case and he was removed from his office and stripped of his parliamentary immunity. After Sam Rainsy left the country, the CNRP named Kem Sokha its acting president.
The conflict with Kem Sokha is just one of several legal cases the government or the ruling CPP have brought against opposition party members.
A National Election Committee member and four staffers with the rights group ADHOC, along with a U.N. worker, are facing bribery or accessory charges after being accused of attempting to pay the hairdresser to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Kem Sokha.
Human rights workers say the scandal is being used by the ruling party to crack down on its political opponents and silence critics ahead of the elections. Hun Sen has ruled the country for 31 years.
CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An is currently in jail over his accusations that the CPP failed to stop land encroachment by Vietnam and used improper maps to demarcate the border between the two former colonies of France.
Reported by Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.