Across the Prek Pnov Bridge, where Phnom Penh gives way to Kandal, the massive foundations of an unfinished stone spire commemorating the achievements of Prime Minister Hun Sen jut up from an otherwise empty expanse.
Dubbed the “Win-Win Monument”, the building is primarily meant to celebrate Hun Sen’s oft-cited “Win-Win Policy” of allowing Khmer Rouge holdouts to keep their military positions in exchange for defecting to government forces, ending decades of civil war.
Now, according to Defence Minister Tea Banh, it will also commemorate something else: the ruling party’s campaign to encourage opposition defections after the highly controversial decision to dissolve its only legitimate competition earlier this month.
Speaking at the daunting, bunker-like building on Tuesday, Banh said that Hun Sen’s new policy of encouraging defections also deserved to be enshrined.
“The Win-Win Policy was extended to the new situation; as we have seen, he issued the policy after the CNRP dissolution,” he said. “So these are new things, but they will be included later.”
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the Kingdom’s largest opposition party – over widely derided accusations that it was fomenting a foreign-backed “revolution”. The premier has encouraged former members of the CNRP to defect to the ruling party, and has attempted to draw parallels between this policy and that of the 1990s.
The Win-Win Monument is made up of slabs of sheer, angular stone – the same type of stone used in the construction of Angkor Wat. But, rather than religious icons, construction workers have adorned the foundations of the building with sculpted panels depicting events in the career of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The tableaus include, among other scenes, the premier sitting in a circle of commoners eating rice, him leading a group of soldiers out of a forest and him lecturing at a blackboard.
According to Banh, sculptors will also set in stone a testament to the aftermath of the CNRP’s dissolution, which many in the international community have condemned as the worst violation of political rights in Cambodia in decades.
And while the premier has been quick to congratulate himself for the achievement, analysts have said the comparison between the Win-Win Policy of the 1990s and that of today is misguided, primarily, critics have said, because Hun Sen manufactured the conflict with the CNRP in the first place.
In his speech on Tuesday, Banh also said he had appealed to the Ministry of Finance for extra funding for the monument, despite government officials originally pledging to independently finance the project.
“For me, I think that the planned money is not enough, and it needs more. The other day, I talked with [Finance Minister Aun] Pornmonrith, to ask for more help,” he said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence declined to comment yesterday, and Finance Ministry officials could not be reached.
One of the sculptors working on the bas reliefs yesterday said each carving required about 10 artists and one week of work.
“We follow their orders because they hired us. We still use the traditional tools to sculpt, but for other countries, they have more modern tools than this. They might be able to do it better than us,” explained the sculptor, who declined to give his name.
“The sculptures will last for thousands of years, like Angkor Wat,” he added.
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