Cambodia’s Prime Minister Takes Potshot at Opposition in New Year’s Speech

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen attacked the opposition party in a speech on Friday during the country’s New Year’s celebrations in Siem Reap in the run-up to local elections in June which could unseat many of his party’s lawmakers.

The premier used an analogy in his speech to take a shot at leaders from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the country’s main opposition party, by retelling a Cambodian folktale about Indra, king of the gods, who helped a poor beggar with leprosy become king of the universe.

But because of his greediness, the man wanted to own Indra’s planet, infuriating the king who turned him into a poor beggar with leprosy once again.

“When Indra was annoyed with the man and noted his endless greediness for wanting to conquer Indra’s planet, he turned him back into the same poor beggar with leprosy,” Hun Sen said.

“That story reflects the current reality because there is someone who is like that beggar,” he said in a tacit reference to former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy. “However, that’s just a folktale. Somebody shouldn’t feel that he has been picked on. In any event, try not to be too greedy.”

‘He shouldn’t mock others’

Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay said he was not surprised by Hun Sen’s speech, but added that the premier should not use the New Year celebrations, traditionally a time of unity and harmony, to talk about political divisions and mock his opponents.

“During a Khmer New Year’s celebration like this, he [Hun Sen] should try to unite people,” he said. “He shouldn’t mock others for his political gain.”

A few weeks before the Khmer New Year, Hun Sen sent a message to all politicians to refrain from attacking each other during the holiday, which runs through Sunday.

Sam Rainsy, who has been in exile in France since late 2015, has had numerous defamation lawsuits filed against him, with many still pending trial.

He resigned as head of the CRNP in February just as Hun Sen’s government was planning to introduce a law that would dissolve political parties if their leaders are convicted of domestic crimes.

On March 30, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Sam Rainsy in absentia to 20 months in prison for incitement and defamation, adding to a previous five-year term, and ordered him to pay a fine of 10 million riel (U.S. $2,500) to the state and a symbolic fine of 100 riel (U.S. $0.02) to Hun Sen.

The CNRP is one of 12 political parties competing for 1,646 commune council seats on the June 4 ballot that many see as a bellwether for general elections in 2018 that could unseat Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 32 years.

Observers believe that the CNRP could give the CPP a run for its money in the June elections, and the opposition has warned that the ruling party seeks to prevent it from standing in the elections through a variety of different measures.

Reported by Thai Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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