PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Prime Minister Hun Sen is “running out of patience” with the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party on “some issues,” in particular the dispute over the demarcation of the border with Vietnam, Council of Minister’s spokesman Phay Siphan told Khmer Times yesterday.
Mr. Siphan was responding to questions about Mr. Hun Sen’s use of the word “stupid” to describe the opposition. He defended the use of the adjective, saying Mr. Hun Sen was just being straight forward.
“This is one of my prime minister’s virtues: he speaks the language of the common people,” Mr. Siphan said. “In Cambodia it is not insulting to call someone ‘stupid’.”
By contrast, CNRP President Sam Rainsy is two-faced, Mr. Siphan said. “He shakes with one hand and use the other to stab in the back.”
What is more insulting than calling members of a political party “stupid” is to say the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is betraying the nation and is a “puppet of Hanoi,” Mr. Siphan said.
He also brushed off speculation that the announcement that the election would not be held in February – as the opposition expected – was a sign that the CPP was afraid it would lose.
“We are not afraid of this,” he said, explaining that the decision to hold the election in July of 2018 was based purely on the Constitution.
All Talk, No Action
The much-touted “culture of dialogue” has been under fresh scrutiny since Prime Minister Hun Sen’s surprise announcement on Monday that the next election will not be held early because the opposition was “stupid during negotiations” to set the date.
Political analyst Sok Touch said the culture of dialogue was all talk and no action. “It was just a promise and was too vague,” he said, adding that it was not based on laws.
“The two parties do not abide by the culture of dialogue,” Mr. Touch said.
“They only think about their respective interests, especially on the border issue,” he added.
He noted that the CPP was requesting maps from the UN and powerful nations, while the CNRP had bought its own map in France to use to demarcate the border. “Why don’t the two parties use the culture of dialogue to deal with this issue?” he asked.
The culture of dialogue was intended to introduce civility to the Kingdom’s fiercely antagonistic political scene, and usher in a new era of cooperation between the two largest political parties, its proponents said last year.
The detente followed an accord between the CPP and the CNRP that ended a yearlong boycott of the National Assembly by the opposition, which claimed it had won the 2013 elections but was cheated out of forming the government by widespread electoral fraud. The CPP has rejected this allegation.
According to Article 3 of the accord signed on July 22 last year, the two parties agreed that they would reschedule the election date, but did not give a deadline for doing so.
Mr. Hun Sen said on Monday that Mr. Rainsy had reneged on his agreement to discuss a new date for the election. “I told him that we should set the date for the election on the fourth week of February, but [Mr. Rainsy] said we should delay discussions to another time,” he said, explaining why he had called the opposition “stupid.”
Long Kimkhorn, founder and president of Khmer Youth Congress – which is often critical of the CPP – said that both parties had different interpretations of the political accord.
“Even though they agreed to reschedule the election date, they can still break the accord,” Mr. Kimkhorn said.
Neither party is motivated by ethics and only thinks about its own interests, he added. The CPP has realized that it is gaining nothing from the political accord because the opposition is attacking it on sensitive issues such as alleged encroachment on Cambodian territory by Vietnam and illegal immigration, Mr. Kimkhorn said.
“If the political parties really prioritized national issue, they would amend the Constitution so that the date of the next election can be changed,” he said.
“If [we] want early election, we must amend Article 78 of the Constitution,” Mr. Hun Sen said on Monday. This Article calls for elections to be held every five years.
“The CPP will absolutely not amend the Constitution,” he said, adding that the CNRP leadership only seeks political gains and said it “cheats the voters.”
“I will not let you to get more political interest, you can say what you want,”
Despite being labeled “stupid” by the prime minister on Monday, CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith said the culture of dialogue remains the best option for ironing out the dispute over the date of the next election.
He agreed that the Constitution gave an elected National Assembly a five-year mandate to govern, but said that there was no need to amend the charter to move up the date of the election.
The dispute over the date of the election was a “minor difference in perceptions between the two parties,” he said. Mr. Chanrith also said that July was a bad month for elections because it fell during the rainy season.
New Party Weighs In
Mr. Hun Sen said not holding the next election early would also help the new political parties that have formed recently. It will give them more time to prepare themselves, he said.
Sam Son Doeun, vice president of the Grassroots Democratic Party, said the date of the election was not important.
“Thank you, Samdech [Hun Sen] for thinking of our party, but that is not really important. The thing is that if the election is held in February,during the dry season, more voters will be able to cast their ballots.”