Have Western embassies been told to consider closing?
Prime Minister Hun Sen has “asked” foreign countries to choose between Cambodia or an “outlawed group” – a clear reference to the disbanded opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – warning that they should consider closing their missions in Phnom Penh if they make the wrong choice.
In an astonishing outburst ahead of Cambodia staging the May 5-17 South East Asian Games and national elections on July 23, Hun Sen also took a veiled swipe at the United States, claiming “on the one hand, you come to instruct me. On the other hand, you come to oppress me.”
According to the government’mouthpiece Fresh News, the region’s longest serving leader had praised Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who he cited as saying “superpowers should stop interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries.”
Hun Sen, a staunch ally of China, said: “You [foreign country] intervened in our domestic affairs and instructed us to respect the law, and divide the power of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary.”
Observers added this was a clear reference to the U.S.
“However, you interfered in the court process and forced the Royal Government or government officials to intervene in the court’s decision. In this sense, on the one hand, you come to instruct me. On the other hand, you come to oppress me,” Hun Sen said.
He did not say which court case was interfered with, though such warnings through the official media to opposition politicians, journalists, academics, and NGOs have become part and parcel of daily life in Cambodia and follow the further closure of independent media outlets.
The CNRP was outlawed by the courts in late 2017, and many of its leaders have been rounded up and convicted for attempting to topple Hun Sen’s government with U.S. support, through a color revolution.
That enabled Hun Sen’s long ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats contested in the National Assembly at elections in 2018. It is expected to go close to repeating that feat at this year’s poll. Hun Sen then intends to transfer power to his eldest son Hun Manet.
“Foreign countries should choose between Cambodia as a country and an outlawed group who breached the laws,” Hun Sen told the diplomatic community in Phnom Penh.
“If you [foreign countries] choose the outlawed group, you can consider ending diplomatic mission [sic] to Cambodia,” he said.
The U.S. has also led Western nations in sharply criticizing the closures of media outlets and the prosecution of CNRP supporters, including the conviction of CNRP leader Kem Sokha for treason. The European Union has adopted resolutions demanding the release of all political prisoners.
Authorities here have also been upset by sharp criticism of their handling of massive human trafficking operations into “slave compounds” blamed on Chinese criminal syndicates.
In the same speech, delivered at the opening of a hospital, Hun Sen “reiterated that media outlets breaching the laws must be eliminated,” Fresh News reported. “Anyone who betrays the nation or destroys peace must not be tolerated. They are also banned from joining [the] democratic process.”
The outburst was delivered after a weekend announcement that Hun Sen’s eldest son Hun Manet has been officially nominated, at the top of a CPP list of 12 candidates, for the elections, which is considered the next step in a transfer of power, possibly after senate elections in August 2024.
As deputy commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, Hun Manet was recently promoted to the rank of four-star general but under the constitution he will have to resign if elected as a member of Parliament.
One CPP insider says that “the CPP has made known its goal” to win up to 115 National Assembly seats, or 92 percent of the total, while forecasting that the opposition Candlelight Party – forged from the remnants of the CNRP – will get less than 10 percent.