|Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a rally in with garment workers in Kandal province, Cambodia May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring|
Crackdown and cash: Hun Sen's recipe for victory in Cambodian poll
Reuters | 15 June 2018
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Drenched in sweat and more than an hour into a speech urging 16,000 garment factory workers to vote for the ruling party, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia revived the restless crowd by announcing that everyone would receive a cash gift.
“Nephews and nieces, it is just a little,” he said as the audience cheered and applauded. “You each get 20,000 riels ($5) as a gift. For nieces who are pregnant, you each get an extra envelope.”
Cambodians go to the polls on July 29 and Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 30 years, is trying to ensure victory after two close elections in 2013 and 2017 with cash inducements and a series of punishing measures against the opposition.
In doing so, according to critics, he has delivered a hammer blow to Cambodia’s status as a liberal democracy, which is enshrined in the country’s constitution forged by a United Nations peace deal in 1991.
Kem Sokha, the leader of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested in September for allegedly treasonous remarks in a speech made four years earlier.
Two months later, the CNRP was dissolved and almost 5,000 of its elected officials replaced by members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Meanwhile, civil liberties and freedom of speech have been quashed as independent media outlets close and critics and journalists are detained.
Huy Vannak, under secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, defended the cash payments at rallies, saying “it’s government money”. A CPP spokesman, Sok Eysan, however, said the party did not hand out money. Hun Sen’s cabinet chief, Ho Sothy, could not be reached for comment.
Sophal Ear, a Cambodia analyst at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said Hun Sen, spooked by recent election setbacks, has “stacked the deck” to ensure victory.
“He determined that the only way forward would be to retain power by any means necessary,” Sophal Ear said in emailed comments. “He is setting the stage for whatever may happen next but with him and his family in control, always.”
At the rally, Hun Sen told the crowd he gave out cash gifts at all such events. While the gifts Reuters saw being handed out were mostly modest, the largesse in total would be considerable if all the 540,000 garment workers Hun Sen says he has addressed since last year received some cash.
The opposition does not typically hand out cash at rallies, according to political analysts and opposition members.
However, the National Election Committee, which is supposed to be independent, has supported Hun Sen’s practices.
“As the head of the royal government, he has the right to organize things in society,” said Hang Puthea, a spokesman for the committee, when asked about the cash handouts.
The CPP has also provided cash payments to members who make renewed pledges of allegiance to the party, according to a Voice of America report and copies of party documents seen by Reuters.
Almost 2 million of 5.3 million registered CPP members didn’t vote in the national election of 2013.