Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday warned of civil war if the public does not support his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in local elections slated for next month, but observers said his threats are doing the nation more damage than good.
Speaking at the inauguration of a government office in Tbong Khmum province, Hun Sen said Cambodia’s current state of peace could be upended if the people do not work to keep it intact.
“The saying ‘a bird in hand is worth two in the bush’ is true—be wary of the bird in hand and do not lose it,” he said.
“Please beware that the peace enjoyed throughout the country can be very precarious. If you want to see how fragile this peace is, you only need look to Facebook posts [by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)] … You’ll see how war is started.”
Hun Sen has made similar threats in recent months, with CPP-controlled media regularly alluding to civil war as the country prepares for commune elections in June.
In February, the prime minister hinted that he might deploy military force against any political party that attempts to wrest power away from him with a victory in national elections scheduled for July 2018.
“Some individuals dared to claim that in 2018 we would be crushed because we wouldn’t recognize the election results,” he said at the time.
“They predicted that in 2018 they could win, and if we don’t hand over power to them, they will crush us. How can this happen if the troops are in my hand?”
Hun Sen, who has already ruled Cambodia for three decades, has previously suggested he would remain in power for 10 more years.
The CPP won more than 70 percent of the vote and secured 1,592 of 1,633 communes in Cambodia’s 2012 local elections, held before the CNRP was formed. The CNRP won nearly half of the vote in the general election the following year.
Observers say the CNRP could give the CPP a run for its money in the June polls—a race that many believe may foreshadow the general election in 2018.
Political commentator Meas Ny told RFA’s Khmer Service Tuesday that a good leader is someone who can help solve the problems of the people “systematically and consistently,” not someone who “only offers to help people when an election is near.”
He also suggested the prime minister is hurting the nation by fomenting disunity.
“Any leader who promotes division amongst Cambodians is humiliating his own race and allowing foreigners to look down on his people and country,” Meas Ny said.
Hun Sen’s threats of war also came as domestic nongovernmental group Future Forum issued a report entitled “Changes in Voters’ Socio-Economic Status” on Tuesday, which said the CPP strategy of issuing threats and providing gifts is ineffective as a method of luring voters ahead of the June ballot.
Cambodians are increasingly aspiring to enjoy material lifestyles, Future Forum said, and political parties are more likely to attract voters with policies aimed at improving the private economy.
“Recent research has indicated that the tradition of gift-giving, perceived as a way to buy votes, seems to be counter-productive, because people nowadays evaluate a political party based on their families’ current economic status,” the report said.
“Therefore, it is important for politicians to take into consideration these social changes and to design genuine political programs and policies that reflect the needs of citizens, such as, for example, by taking into consideration the changes in economic activities adopted by the electorate.”
Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.