Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday hit back at claims he paid between “$100,000 and $200,000” to former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials to request political rehabilitation. He said they were not “goods for sale”.
Speaking to more than 10,000 garment factory workers in Pursat province on Wednesday, he said: “I just saw a Facebook post by someone living in Montreal claiming that those who requested rehabilitation were bought with amounts from $100,000 and $200,000."
“I would like to send the message – don’t regard your former colleagues as goods for sale. Don’t look down on those who are not remaining with you and requesting a return of their political rights by regarding them as goods that Hun Sen can buy."
“Hun Sen doesn’t need to buy these people because they are not animals or goods for sale. We respect their freedom, no matter which party they belong to. I respect those who make such a request and those who do not. Why do you look down on those who used to work with you and see them as goods for sale?” he asked.
Hun Sen said members of his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had also left in the past, but he had not insulted them and instead gave them the full freedom to do so.
“Please everyone, and all foreigners, evaluate this clearly. Does a democrat block the rights of others, regarding those who stay with them as loyal and those who leave as treasonous?”
Hun Sen again warned that those who do not make a request for political rehabilitation soon would have to wait until November 2022, when the five-year ban handed down by the Supreme Court to 118 former CNRP officials following its dissolution was over.
This would mean they would be unable to take part in the May 2022 commune elections.
He said some former CNRP members were engaging in political activities in breach of the Supreme Court ban, having formed ad hoc committees with two members in every commune.
“Stop that! Stop your ad hoc committees with members in communes. Stop! Otherwise [you] will be handcuffed. What are you organising this force for? Are you preparing a terrorist act?"
“If you are not rehabilitated you have no right to hold meetings with citizens,” he stressed.
The prime minister then seemingly turned his attention to CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy.
“Even though you are not in power, you degrade others as ‘party betrayers’. If they request rehabilitation you regard them as such. So you are the top dictator."
“Countries that regard themselves as democratic . . . please look at the former opposition party or the rebel group. They don’t allow their colleagues rights and accuse me of paying $100,000 or $200,000."
“Hun Sen doesn’t have the money to buy [them]. Hun Sen, if he had such money, he would build schools everywhere,” he said.
Rainsy, the “acting president” of the CNRP, has warned the banned 118 that those who request political rehabilitation were betraying the party and the will of the people and that making such a request was “stupid and a disgraceful act of submission”.
The recently rehabilitated Real Camerin said on Wednesday: “It’s up to people what they say. Nonsense things don’t give me a headache. National issues are the important thing.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said he believed Hun Sen was trying to remove stumbling blocks to more applications being made for political rehabilitation with his words.
Regarding CNRP criticism of those who had requested rehabilitation, he said: “It is nothing new. They quarrel among themselves, especially since the dissolution of their party.”
Sok Touch, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said CNRP members should refrain from making accusations that their former colleagues were bought.
“[Some CNRP members] don’t make requests but accuse others of treason and betraying the party. The question is: If they don’t request rehabilitation, can they be involved in politics? No. If they dared to, they would be arrested and jailed because it is against the law,” he said.