A movement started by exiled Cambodian opposition lawmakers has launched a campaign boycotting products sold by companies owned by the family of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the country’s longtime leader who is using his power to eliminate his competitors before a general election in July.
The Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM), formed by former legislators from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), called on people not to buy products from Vital Premium Water Company beginning next week, said Eng Chhai Eang, a former deputy president of the party, which was dissolved by the country’s Supreme Court in November.
The CNRM considers the drinking water produced by the company run by Hun Sen’s daughter, Hun Mana, to be “the spring drops of tears,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday.
Eng Chhai Eang also said Vital Premium Water Company is not the only company that is involved in undermining democracy and justice in Cambodia.
“It’s natural that where there is oppression there is struggle,” he said. “We have to continue our fight for justice. If we do not do anything, injustice will continue to spread. Injustice is like an early stage of cancer that needs immediate treatment before it is too late. ”
A July 2016 report by London-based Global Witness found that Hun Sen’s family members are “amassing vast personal fortunes in Cambodia’s private sector, and wield significant control across most of its lucrative industries,” with links to major international brands including Apple, Nokia, Visa, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, and Honda.
Pressure on the government
Cambodia’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in November, dissolving the CNRP for what it said was the party’s involvement in plotting a “coup” against the government.
The decision banned 118 CNRP lawmakers and senior officials from politics for five years, eliminating Prime Minister Hun Sen’s main competition ahead the elections. More than 5,000 remaining elected CNRP commune chiefs and district counselors were also removed from their positions.
Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who has lived in exile since 2015 to avoid convictions widely seen as politically motivated, created the CNRM with other party members in exile in January to keep the CNRP alive without fear of government reprisal and to undertake a nonviolent action plan to ensure that the general elections are free and fair.
The CNRM also was formed to put pressure on the government to stop its persecution of the political opposition and secure the release of former CNRP leader Kem Sokha who has been jailed on charges of “treason” and other prisoners of conscience, leaders of the movement say.
High-ranking security and defense officials in Cambodia have branded the CNRM a “terrorist” organization that wants to create chaos and violence, while the Justice Ministry has called the movement illegal.
On Thursday, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry filed a lawsuit against five top former opposition party lawmakers involved in the CNRM, including Sam Rainsy, for conducting political activities outside the country.
As part of a crackdown on opposition voices, Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have also targeted NGOs and independent media outlets, prompting international donors, including the United States and European Union, to cut funding over concerns about the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
‘A revolution in mentality’
In a related development, political opposition officials and analysts called a recently issued government white paper another attempt to justify the persecution of the CNRP, civil society organizations, and independent media.
The government issued the 132-page white paper on the political situation in Cambodia on Feb. 8.
“Real democracy in Cambodia is not being reversed or is declining,” said the report which was issued only in the Khmer language. “It is protected and strengthened commensurate with the principle of the rule of law in the context of the national interest and the people. On the contrary, only fake democracy is being uprooted.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan wrote on the messaging app Telegram on Thursday that the white paper’s purpose is to explain to Cambodians inside and outside the country the real situation there and to warn against the danger of “color revolutions” — uprisings that started in the 2000s that sought dramatic political changes and raised hopes for democratic development in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East — taking hold in Cambodia.
The paper paints peaceful protests over past election results and over land grabs, corruption cases, deforestation, and illegal logging as part of a revolution instigated by the CNRP with the assistance of foreign governments to topple the Cambodian government.
Cambodian political analyst Lao Mong said he disagrees with the white paper’s premise, telling RFA that color revolutions are not a crime and that Cambodia’s political opposition has not carried out any acts calling for a government overthrow.
He noted that Hun Sen’s 33 years in power have been marked by rampant corruption, land grabs, forced evictions, human rights violations, and extrajudicial killings.
The struggle against oppression is not a color revolution but a revolution of the mindset of Cambodians through peaceful means, Lao Mong said
“The government has also abused its powers in its leadership,” he said. “People have been oppressed and persecuted. That is why they have to stand up and fight for change. That’s a revolution in mentality. There is nothing wrong about that.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.