Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the authorities to arrest anyone who attempt to cause social unrest and public order through protests or social media campaigns against the National Election Committee (NEC), the Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC), or himself.
He said that an opposition figure based in Phnom Penh – whom he did not name and only referred to as “an extremist” – was planning to organise protests against the NEC’s decision to disqualify the Candlelight Party (CP) from the July 23 national election and the CCC’s subsequent rejection of their appeal.
“All of my previous orders to protect public order remain valid. Authorities must arrest those who attempt to threaten the Kingdom’s security, whether they are leaders or grassroots members,” he announced while addressing the May 31 inauguration of a Tonle Sap River bridge and its overpass in the capital’s Russey Keo district.
“Some individuals have declared that they would hold protests, even without permission from the Ministry of Interior. I want to make it clear that our prisons are always ready to welcome them. In Phnom Penh, there is one extremist who always causes problem,” he said, noting that the “extremist” had been jailed before.
Though he did not name names, the remarks appeared to be directed at CP vice-president Rong Chhun, who later that day denied that he had planned any protests.
Chhun acknowledged, however, that the CP board of directors met on May 28 to discuss how they would proceed following the rejection of their appeal.
He said the board had decided on three courses of action. The party would declare its willingness to contest the election and would attempt to obtain the required paperwork from the interior ministry. If these two options were unsuccessful, the party would apply for permission from the interior ministry and Phnom Penh City Hall to stage peaceful protests.
“I told the media earlier that if they objected to our application to protest peacefully, the CP leadership would discuss other ways that enable us to participate in the July 23 election,” he said.
He added that the board had yet to submit applications for the proposed protests, as it was still considering the options.
Meanwhile, Hun Sen warned the public, especially supporters of the opposition, not to heed any calls to protest though, he claimed, support for such protests was “not unanimous” among the party faithful.
“If you are determined to protest, then you are determined to risk jail. This will be necessary in order to preserve public order during the upcoming ASEAN Para Games,” he warned.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said on May 31 that the committee’s decision is irreversible, as the deadline for party registration has passed, as defined by the election calendar.
“The NEC will not do anything that is outside of the laws. If any party is able to obtain a letter of registration – or a certified copy of one – they should keep it in a safe place so they can register for future elections,” he said.
Several other parties expressed their support for the NEC and CCC decisions.
Dharmacracy Party president Pothitey Savathey said that any objection to the decisions and subsequent call for protests is in breach of the law.
“The 7th mandate parliamentary election will still be free and fair without that one party, as 18 others will contest it,” she said.
During the inauguration ceremony, Hun Sen also chided former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who reportedly travelled through the region in the past few days. On May 30, Rainsy – former president of the long-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – posted a video of his arrival in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. The self-exiled opposition figure, who arrived from Australia, is seen greeted by his supporters at the airport.
Hun Sen noted that Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim had promised him several times that Rainsy would not be allowed to enter Malaysia.
“[Anwar] was unaware of Rainsy’s arrival, as he flew on a private flight and used his French passport. Yesterday, he attempted to hold a rally, but it was thwarted by the authorities,” he said.
“Our two governments would be unable to see eye-to-eye if he allowed Rainsy to fly to Cambodia via Malaysia,” he added.
On the same day, Hun Sen also released an audio message dismissing the claims of Norway-based opposition activist Chham Chhany, who began a social media campaign to discredit the premier as well as the NEC and CCC.
Chhany claimed that interior minister Sar Kheng could have issued registration documents to the CP, but that Hun Sen feared the party’s popularity could ruin ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) “plans to appoint Hun Manet” – currently deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Foreces (RCAF) – as future prime minister.
Chhany also encouraged opposition party supporters to boycott the upcoming election, or to “deface” their ballot papers on the day of the election, thereby making them invalid.
“Finally, we should condemn the regime of Hun Sen, the NEC and the CCC who blocked the CP from participating in the election. This shows that the election will not be genuine or transparent,” Chhany wrote.
Hun Sen described the plans of the opposition activists as “poisonous”.
“Their poisonous scheme to divide the Kingdom will have bad consequences for their group inside the country. This plan is the work of the three-generation traitor who was deported from Malaysia just minutes ago,” he said in reference to Rainsy.