Social Affairs Minister Vong Soth said on Monday that all civil servants must support the Cambodian People’s Party or resign from their jobs, and warned that the government will use bamboo rods to bludgeon anyone who protests after next year’s election.
Speaking at a ceremony in Phnom Penh to promote ministry officials, Soth said he was growing tired of what he described as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s attempts to “poison” society and its criticisms of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“The opposition says that the CPP, and especially Hun Sen, just does whatever he wants to do,” Soth said, before going on to explain that the opposition was, in essence, correct. “He does whatever he wants to do – in compliance with the law, and the law gives him that power. And everyone who breaks the law will be arrested and put in prison.”
With the next national election due in July 2018, anyone who causes trouble or disputes another ruling party victory like the CNRP did after the July 2013 national election will be struck on the head with the heavier end of a mature bamboo pole, he continued. “Now [Hun Sen] uses these words: at the election this time, if there is the issue of protests again, the bottom end of the bamboo will hit their heads, and they will not be allowed to have the right to protest,” he said, adding the CPP could make laws to let it do so.
“What [Hun Sen] wants to say is that we use legitimate power . . . and if the law still has loopholes, we will draft some laws, because when we win, we can do whatever we want,” he explained.
Soth then reminded the civil servants that their salaries came from a state that was created by the CPP, insisting that meant they had no right to support the opposition. “Officials eat the state’s salary, and are asked to be neutral, but do not forget that the state was born from the party, and I think all of our officials must have the clear character of firmly supporting the party,” Soth said, demanding resignations from disloyal elements.
“If anybody does not support the CPP, submit applications of resignation, and I can help you [with that], but if you are loyal to the CPP you must vote for the CPP, and then you can stay,” he said. He added that the stakes at next year’s national elections were life-or-death for the CPP. “When we become the losers, we will be finished.”
Opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy said that he was concerned that senior members of the government were becoming increasingly aggressive in their speeches in the lead-up to the national election and were doing away with any pretense of being peaceful. Similar rhetoric ahead of this year’s commune elections drew condemnation from election watchdogs, who said it had created an atmosphere of intimidation.
“For Prime Minister Hun Sen, it is a normal thing to use these words,” Channy said, explaining that the premier seemed to be encouraging belligerence in others too.
“We can remember clearly a few months ago the defence minister talked about smashing people’s teeth, and now Vong Soth is talking about smashing people’s heads with bamboo,” he said. “This is a threat against the people.”