In the latest in a series of government threats against opposition political forces in Cambodia, Cambodian defense minister Tea Banh warned on Sunday that the army will “smash the teeth” of anyone protesting a win by the ruling party in elections next month.
Speaking at the opening of a public building in Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia, Tea Banh said that the country’s military will quickly suppress any protests by Cambodia National Rescue Party members like those that followed the CNRP’s loss in national elections in 2013.
“If you lose the elections and contest the results by taking to the streets to protest, we will smash your teeth,” the defense minister said.
“I’m warning you in strong terms that we won’t allow such protests again.”
Tea Banh’s remarks came less than a week after Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen warned of civil war if the public does not support his ruling Cambodian People’s Party in local elections across the country on June 4.
Hun Sen, who has already ruled Cambodia for three decades, has made similar threats in recent months, with CPP-controlled media regularly alluding to violence if the party loses.
Observers say the CNRP could give the CPP a run for its money in the June polls, foreshadowing a possible CNRP win in national elections scheduled for 2018.
'Serving the party, not the people'
Phnom Penh-based political commentator Meas Ny told RFA’s Khmer Service on Monday that Tea Banh had exceeded the limits of his authority by threatening Cambodian voters.
“As minister of defense, he has now crossed the line. It seems that he serves Cambodia’s ruling party rather than its people,” Meas Ny said.
“It is also a violation of the constitution that a senior official of the country’s armed force should interfere with the responsibilities of the Ministry of Interior,” he said.
“The armed forces should deal only with armed conflicts. It is against the law for the armed forces to suppress or kill civilians who exercise their freedom of speech by protesting peacefully.”
Also speaking to RFA, CNRP spokesperson Yim Sovann questioned the motive behind Tea Banh’s weekend remarks.
“I don’t understand why he has chosen to threaten the public with statements like this,” he said.
“The CNRP listens to the people. We respect their will.”
Cambodia’s National Election Commission will convene a meeting in the next two weeks to address the issue of threats and warnings that members of both parties have made in the run-up to the June vote, with the NEC looking to see what measures must be taken to avoid future incitement, the commission has said.
Reported and translated by Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.