Cambodia’s Hun Sen Threatens to Kill Opposition Dialogue

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Cambodia’s Hun Sen Threatens to Kill Opposition Dialogue

The ‘culture of dialogue’ can die, the premier warns.

Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen threatened Wednesday to kill the current ‘culture of dialogue’ with the opposition which began last year following a year-long political impasse if its members continue to criticize the ruling party.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), speaking at an inauguration ceremony in Sihanoukville, Hun Sen criticized a speech by Kem Sokha, deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in which he said that if CNRP wins the next national elections which are to be held by 2018, it would not take revenge against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

“I would like to send a message to [CNRP president] Sam Rainsy: Please advise the people in your internal party that if you cannot stop Kem Sokha from saying this, the dialogue of culture might be halted,” RFA quoted Hun Sen as saying. “It was born, but it also can die.”

The two parties reached a landmark agreement in July last year which saw the opposition end an almost one-year boycott of parliament following the disputed 2013 general elections in exchange for the ruling party agreeing to key reforms to the nation’s electoral body.

In response to Hun Sen’s remarks, CNRP president Sam Rainsy told The Cambodia Daily that had met with Sokha and persuaded him to tone down his attacks on Hun Sen and the ruling party.

“We have decided…that the CNRP leadership unanimously supports the culture of dialogue. We both want that message to be clear,” Rainsy said. “Our goal is to win the election, to come to power, to lead the country, and to bring about change. Nothing has changed but in this new framework, with this new mindset and culture of dialogue, we must respect our competitor.”

But Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said the ruling party was merely trying to stifle criticism, which in any case ought to be part of a culture of dialogue between opposing groups.

“How can you ask the opposition not to criticize the government or give alternate opinions, and how can there be a culture of dialogue without criticism?” Panha said.