Cambodia’s government on Thursday hit out at opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s comparison of his bid to unseat Prime Minister Hun Sen to a popular movement in Ukraine, threatening him with a lawsuit for allegedly inciting violence in the nation.
Responding to comments made by Sam Rainsy a day earlier in which he vowed to renew mass protests of the country’s disputed July 2013 elections following the lift of a ban on public gatherings, government spokesman Phay Siphan said such statements imply the use of force to institute leadership change.
“Sam Rainsy is using the people as his political tools,” Phay Siphan told a press conference in Phnom Penh of the opposition leader’s plan to gather some two million supporters of his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to call for Hun Sen’s resignation and an immediate reelection.
“He doesn't value the election results,” he said, referring to the disputed official vote count which declared Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) as the victor in the polls.
On Wednesday, Sam Rainsy pointed to the recent ouster of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych as reason for hope that demonstrations could bring down Hun Sen, urging Cambodia’s security forces to follow the example of the Ukrainian police in siding with protesters instead of clamping down on them.
He has said that the new demonstrations are part of a bid to “remove dictators” and “follow the revolution in Ukraine.”
But Phay Siphan said Thursday that Sam Rainsy “can’t compare Cambodia to Ukraine,” saying to do so was “incitement,” and threatened to “take legal action” against him and CNRP deputy Kem Sokha.
He reminded Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha that the government is still considering legal action against them for “provoking violence” that led to a fierce crackdown early last month.
On Jan. 3, Cambodian security forces fired on CNRP-backed striking garment workers, leaving five dead in what rights groups described as the worst state violence against civilians in the country in years.
Authorities instituted a ban on public protests a day later, as police violently dispersed CNRP-led demonstrations in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park that had been held alongside the garment worker strikes.
The party, which has boycotted parliament over the elections had, since July, held a series of protests in the park that were joined by tens of thousands of demonstrators calling for Hun Sen to step down.
Earlier this week, Hun Sen lifted the ban, but warned that if the opposition had the right to protest, so did supporters of his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)—raising raising concerns of possible clashes between the two groups at simultaneous gatherings.
Phay Siphan on Thursday urged both sides to “respect the voters’ will,” while calling Sam Rainsy “a rebel leader.”
“[Sam Rainsy] wants to use force to topple the government, so he is using people power to try to do so,” he said.
“He is also inciting the armed forces against the government, and we can't allow this to happen.”
Call for cooperation
Meanwhile, Hun Sen on Thursday called on the opposition to redirect its energy towards reforming the country through cooperation with the ruling party.
“Let me express the government's commitment to executing reform agendas and the necessity that the government, the opposition party, development partners, and the private sector collectively work together in a responsible manners for the sake of our country and to achieve our reform objections," he said, speaking at a conference on youth employment in Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen openly urged the CRNP to cooperate with the government to conduct “vital reforms,” without elaborating.
Earlier this month, the CPP and CNRP agreed to form a joint committee to consider adopting electoral reforms which they said would consist of an equal number of representatives from both sides and would hold a national workshop to gather recommendations from a variety of stakeholders.
The panel would also allow voters to contribute their opinions on electoral reform through public forums and would be allowed to accept technical or financial support from local and foreign groups.
The talks were hailed by both sides as a breakthrough. However, no date has been set for a future meeting.
The parties had agreed in September to work together on electoral reform, but talks stalled, and February’s meeting had been the first between the two since then.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.