Cambodia’s social affairs minister has ordered all civil servants to support the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in next year’s general election or resign, and threatened anyone who protests the ballot’s results with violence, prompting a rights group on Wednesday to demand that he be sacked.
Speaking at a promotion ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh on Monday, Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Sauth slammed what he called a bid by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to “poison” society and undermine Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to local media reports.
“The opposition says that the CPP, and especially Hun Sen, just does whatever he wants to do,” the Phnom Penh Post quoted Vong Sauth as saying, before proceeding to suggest that doing so is the prime minister’s right.
“He does whatever he wants to do—in compliance with the law, and the law gives him that power. And everyone who breaks the law will be arrested and put in prison.”
The minister went on to remind civil servants that their salaries are paid by a state built by the CPP, and that they are obligated to support the ruling party.
“Officials eat the state’s salary, and are asked to be neutral, but do not forget that the state was born from the party, and I think all of our officials must have the clear character of firmly supporting the party,” Vong Sauth said, according to the Post.
“If anybody does not support the CPP, submit applications of resignation, and I can help you [with that], but if you are loyal to the CPP you must vote for the CPP, and then you can stay,” he said, adding that a win for the party in next year’s national elections was crucial.
According to a report by the government-aligned Koh Santepheap Daily, the minister then said that protests against the results of the general election set for July 29, 2018 would be met with a crackdown in which protesters’ heads would be “hit with the bottom end of bamboo poles.”
Such a response would be entirely within the rights of the authorities, he said, because the CPP can create the laws to allow it.
The heavy ends of bamboo poles were regularly used by Khmer Rouge soldiers to execute Cambodians deemed enemies of the state during the 1975-1979 rule of the murderous regime.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, has warned repeatedly that electoral wins by the CNRP in local elections held on June 4 and next year’s general ballot would bring instability and war to the country.
And in May, defense minister Tea Banh said that Cambodia’s party-controlled military would “smash the teeth” of anyone protesting a CPP win.
Results from the June vote saw substantial gains in commune leadership by the opposition, in what many observers say may be a bellwether for 2018.
Call for sacking
On Wednesday, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, called for Vong Sauth to be immediately removed from his position for his “outrageous remarks that demonstrate he knows nothing about either human rights or democracy.”
“He is clearly unfit for a job promoting social welfare when he thinks it's alright to threaten to beat people with bamboo poles if they dare voice opinions different from the government, or peacefully protest to air their grievances,” he said in a statement.
“And he shows his ignorance of modern democratic principles when he fails to recognize that in a democracy, it is politicians who are elected to make decisions on law and policy, but the civil servants have different duties, such as carrying out the day to day functions of government in an impartial and professional way.”
Threatening civil servants who don’t back the ruling party and groups that comment on electoral politics “is a dictator’s logic” that coerces the public into following orders, Robertson said, and violates Cambodia’s international obligations to protect rights such as freedom of speech, association and peaceful public assembly.
“Clearly, [Vong Sauth] is trying to prove his loyalty to his political master, Prime Minister Hun Sen,” he said.
“But in the process, [Vong Sauth] has made himself looked ignorant, besmirched Cambodia's already poor international reputation, and confirmed what many people are saying—that Cambodia has already slid well into dictatorship even before the votes are cast in 2018.”
Reported by Maly Leng and Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.