Prime Minister Hun Sen, repeating what has become a pattern in recent weeks, lashed out again on Thursday at the main opposition Candlelight Party in a bid to intimidate and divide it ahead of July’s general election.
First, in response to the allegations that he was threatening the opposition, he said his opponents were lucky he didn’t send thugs to attack their headquarters.
“You have two choices, first, we could use the court,” Hun Sen said during a public appearance at a hospital construction inspection. “Second, we can beat you at home for not listening. which option do you have prefer? The second? Don’t be rude.”
He then offered to allow former opposition MP Ho Vann to return to Cambodia from US exile – as long as he renounces Sam Rainsy, one of Hun Sen’s main political rivals.
This is the third time in the last two weeks that Hun Sen – who has ruled Cambodia since 1985 – and his Cambodian People’s Party have targeted opposition politicians.
Earlier this week, Candlelight Party vice-president Thach Setha was arrested on charges of writing false checks – allegations opposition activists say are politically motivated.
About two weeks ago, Hun Sen targeted Kong Korm, a former deputy foreign minister who is now a senior adviser to the Candlelight Party, and demanded that he return his Phnom Penh home, valued at about $10 million, to the foreign ministry.
From left: Kong Korm, advisor to the Candlelight Party; Thach Setha, Vice President of the Candlelight Party; and Son Chhay, vice president of the Candlelight Party. Photo Credit: Candlelight Party Facebook Page [left] and Associated Press
The government and the CPP claim that none of the cases were politically motivated, but the Candlelight Party issued a statement saying the cases were examples of political persecution.
“The Candlelight Party firmly resists pressure, threats and persecution from the ruling party and urges the ruling party to end it immediately,” the statement said, adding that it will continue to work to ensure the elections are free and free are fair.
The statement also called on signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which would provide the framework for Cambodia to become an independent democratic country, “to fulfill their duties of promoting respect for human rights, the implementation of democracy and pluralism in Cambodia”.
“Don’t assume that every case is a politically motivated case. Please, but there will be legal action against you,” Hun Sen said of Thach Setha on Thursday.
“You cannot make a statement accusing the ruling party of intimidation. Please be careful, the CPP will sue you,” he said. “They wrote bad checks, so if there’s a lawsuit, it’s very reasonable.”
Hun Sen asked his legal team to study Candlelight Party’s statement to file a complaint and asked Candlelight to apologize if it wanted to avoid a lawsuit. The ruling party also issued a statement dismissing Candlelight’s claims.
Ho Vann was convicted in absentia of sedition and faces a lengthy prison sentence if he returns. He told RFA’s Khmer Service that he would consider Hun Sen’s offer of a pardon – although other activists lured back to Cambodia have been jailed.
“It would be one of the most important decisions of my life,” said Ho Vann. “I love my life, my society and my country.”
Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.