Cambodia’s leader tells garment workers that opposition is pushing for sanctions

If next month’s election isn’t free, the E.U. could raise tariffs – a move that could cause factory closures.
By RFA Khmer
Cambodia’s leader tells garment workers that opposition is pushing for sanctions Prime Minister Hun Sen talks with a garment factory worker during his visit to Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Aug. 23, 2017.
Credit: Heng Sinith/AP

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday urged thousands of garment workers to speak out against the opposition Candlelight Party and its efforts to bring international sanctions against the country’s garment industry.

“Workers must dare to point to any opposition party officials who have urged foreigners not to invest in Cambodia and buy products from Cambodia,” he said during a public event in Kampong Chhnang province attended by local garment factory workers. 

“You need to say, ‘You are the person who destroys us,’” the prime minister said. “Other opposition parties are opposing the government but they don't urge foreigners not to buy products."

Cambodian workers at a garment factory in Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aug. 23, 2017. Credit: Heng Sinith/AP

Hun Sen’s speech comes almost six weeks before the July 23 parliamentary election. 

The Candlelight Party has gathered support over the last several years with a policy platform centered around improving social welfare benefits and raising the minimum monthly wage for garment workers and civil servants.

But the National Election Committee last month blocked it from appealing on the ballot, citing inadequate paperwork. Several foreign embassies have criticized the ruling party for undermining Cambodia’s democracy.

The European Union in March threatened to raise tariffs if Cambodia doesn’t improve its human rights record and hold free and fair elections this year.

An EU resolution said Cambodia risks further suspension of its participation in the regional bloc’s “Everything But Arms” scheme, or EBA, which allows Phnom Penh access to the European market without tariffs.

The EU already withdrew about 20% of the EBA scheme in 2020, equivalent to about US$1.1 billion of Cambodia’s Europe-bound exports. 

Hun Sen said in March in response to the resolution that Cambodia doesn’t need foreign aid or preferential trade agreements because its economy is strong enough to survive on its own. 

On Thursday, he said that international sanctions could result in the loss of garment factory jobs. 

Finland-based political analyst Kim Sok said Hun Sen should blame himself for any sanctions because he has destroyed the opposition party and democracy in Cambodia. 

“Hun Sen is worried that he will get international pressure after the election that will worsen the workers’ situations,” he said. 

Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Matt Reed.


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