Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Statement of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit​ of the Office of the Council of Ministers

The most recent attack on Cambodia from Radio Free Asia (RFA) came in the form of an editorial comment in its broadcast of January 14 and re-aired on Monday morning 17 January 2011. That editorial used as its pretext the 26th Anniversary of the leadership of the Prime Minister,Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, who became Prime Minister of Cambodia on January 14, 1985. In fact, it is the opening guns by opposition parties and other critics of the Royal Government of the next national election campaign, slated for mid-20l3.

The editorial started in a curious manner, by quoting the speech of Samdech Akka Moha Thomak Pothisal Chea Sim, President of the Senate and Chairman of the Cambodian People's Party, at the 32nd Anniversary of the January 7 Victory Day Celebration. In that statement,Samdech Chea Sim recounted the great successes of the Royal Government, including a solid economic growth rate and a reduction of poverty.

Given the solid economic indicators recounted by Samdech Chea Sim, one would have thought that this would lead to praise the record of the Royal Government and the leadership of the Prime Minister, Samdech Techo Hun Sen. But the RFA editorial quickly moved to the main point of its editorial - to launch a political attack on the Prime Minister. It did so by quoting one of the most virulent critics of the Prime Minister - Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. Adams criticizedSamdech Techo Hun Sen for having served too long in office. This is a strange criticism indeed, for longevity in office is not typically held as a negative attribute. But the Prime Minister is a relatively young man and in good health, and thus can be expected to contribute to the progress of the country for many years to come.

Moreover, Samdech Prime Minister has achieved a status which is rare in the world - that of a senior statesman. As the longest serving, democratically-elected Head of State in Asia, he has attained a status similar to that of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia, the revered public figures in the region. He has not only provided a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state, but raised Cambodia's profile internationally, making significant contributions at the United Nations, ASEAN, and other international fora.

After criticizing the Prime Minister for the length of his service to the country, Mr. Adams moves on to his main point: that the Prime Minister should "give up his position and allow a free election in Cambodia". But this strident critic ignores the Constitution - the CPP won the 2008 general elections and proposed Samdech Techo Hun Sen to be Prime Minister, His Majesty The Kingnominated him and the National Assembly voted for him. This complies with the Constitutional requirements set out in Article 119 and the current mandate is not finished. So why should Mr. Adams insist that he step down?

The second part of Mr. Adams recommendation is that Samdech Prime Minister should allow a free election in Cambodia". But he ignores the facts that Cambodia has already enjoyed a succession of free and fair elections, including the most recent national election in 2008. In fact, each of the four national elections has been judged more free and fair than the previous one. In the most recent national election, Cambodia received technical assistance from numerous democratic countries and international organizations, including Japan, Australia, Denmark, the United Nations, among others. There were 17,000 national and international observers present.

And the results of the election were impressive. For example, the US Embassy stated that the 2008 election "was freer than any election previously held in the country and the vast majority of Cambodia's registered voters were able to express their will in a more open atmosphere than before." The US Embassy praised the "peaceful manner" of the electoral process and the "professional conduct" of the election staff and political party agents.

Similarly, the EU observers found that the election procedures were "well administered" and along with observers and political party agents contributed to the "transparency and confidence in the voting process".

There was no doubt that when the Cambodian people voted, if they chose the CPP, they were endorsing the candidacy of Samdech Techo Hun Sen to be the next Prime Minister. And the voters selected the CPP in overwhelming numbers. So the voters knew, with an absolute certainty and clarity, that if they voted for the CPP, they were endorsing the leadership of Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen. And the CPP won in a landslide election.

Thus, the call by Brad Adams, apparently endorsed by Radio Free Asia, for the Prime Minister to resign and call for new elections is to disenfranchise the vast majority of voters who chose the CPP and, by implication, Samdech Prime Minister. There simply is no precedent for this kind of action, and it is anti-democratic in its very nature.

It also would be unconstitutional to hold new elections prior to the designated time for elections. As cited earlier, there are designated procedures in the Constitution and the National Election Law, with which Mr. Adams apparently is unfamiliar. He would do well to study the Cambodian Constitution and the National Election Law before he starts making proposals that are contrary to their provisions.

Why is Mr. Adams so set on overturning the results of the 2008 election? The answer simply is that he has consistently criticized Cambodia at every turn over the years. It is interesting to note that in 2008, he denounced the election as not being free and fair even before the election was held. Because of his long-time animosity against the CPP and Samdech Prime Minister, he prejudged the election - he did not wait until the voting was conducted, and the election observers could report. Because of his political bias, Adams already had made up his mind that the elections were not free and fair.

And among the observers, those that found some flaws in the election process nevertheless endorsed the result. For example, the chief EU observer stated that while some irregularities existed, the vote in favor of the ruling party that the irregularities could not have changed the result. And the statement of the US Embassy clearly said that the irregularities were "relatively low in number and they do not appear to have affected the outcome or to have distorted the will of the Cambodian people".

Thus, the intent of Brad Adams and Radio Free Asia appears to be to overturn the results of the 2008 election. As they both come from one of the world's oldest democracies, this is a surprisingly undemocratic message. Having elections means that all parties can have a chance to win - it obviously does not give them the right to win. The fact that their preferred candidates or parties did not win is what bothers Mr. Adams and Radio Free Asia, but that is no reason to overturn the Constitution or the results of a free and fair election because of some disgruntled opposition figures or organizations.

Besides their interest in reversing the results of the 2008, a variety of other political attacks were made in the RFA editorial, and the comments of Mr. Adams. For example, there are vague accusations of corruption in the editorial. But there is no mention that Cambodia now has an Anti-Corruption Law, and the Anti-Corruption Unit is actively and publicly pursuing cases of alleged corruption. This is another indication of the bias and political agenda of RFA and the selective use of opposition parties and critics to support its editorial.

Another line of attack is to criticize the family of the Prime Minister. For example, RFA is critical of the promotion of the son of the Prime Minister, Hun Manet, to the position of Major General. But RFA gives short shrift to a compelling fact: the rapid rise in the ranks of General Hun is due, in part, to the fact that he is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, one of the most prestigious army schools in the world. He is representative of a younger generation of Cambodians, who enjoy the benefits of international education. RFA should explain why this is a bad development.

Time does not permit a refutation of each accusation made in the RFA editorial. But make no mistake about it: the principal point of the article is not to celebrate Samdech Prime Minister's 26 years of noble service to Cambodia, but rather to attempt to disenfranchise the voters who selected the CPP in 2008, undermine the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and promote the opposition parties with an eye towards the 2013 national elections. With its highly prejudicial editorial, RFA is announcing the start of the next electoral campaign season.

Phnom Penh, 17 January 2011
Press and Quick Reaction Unit
of the Office of the Council of Ministers

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