PM: Ignore critics, focus on progress

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen said during a press conference on February 7 at Phnom Penh International Airport where he was on-hand to receive the first 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China. SPM

Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 7 said he regards his critics – especially those sceptical of his acceptance of China-donated vaccines – as vicious dogs.

Without naming names, Hun Sen said he would therefore refrain from responding to them and from speaking with any foreign embassies who sought to mediate.

The remarks came in response to questions by journalists during a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport, where he was on-hand to receive the first 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China.

The prime minister also instructed his officials to refrain from responding to the critics. He stressed that the instructions mean that the door to negotiations is now closed.

Hun Sen pointed out that what worries him most is the public’s happiness, saying the country’s population of 16 million need him to maintain peace and political stability because social development through economic growth and poverty alleviation must continue.

“A small number of people are not happy. Let [them] be unhappy because in this world there are happy and unhappy people. The important question to ask is, are there more happy people than unhappy ones, or vice versa?

“Cambodia has very few people locked in prisons or running away from their homeland. Those who suffer are troublemakers, so let them suffer,” he said.

The prime minister also urged his followers not to mention those critics’ names on TV or social media and instead speak about his efforts in containing Covid-19, preventing road accidents, reviving the economy, alleviating poverty, carrying out state reforms and combating corruption in society.

“But [critics] have to understand this clearly – once [I] stop talking, let alone responding, even if an embassy representative comes to speak with me about them, I won’t reply, I won’t speak with them.

“Some might suggest that foreigners step in to mediate, but let me make it clear that I don’t have a reason to speak with [foreigners] on Cambodian matters,” he said.

At the conclusion of the press conference, Hun Sen stated: “My mother once told me that if they insult us, we can sleep soundly at night. But if we insult them, we won’t ever get a good night’s sleep. That is the truth.

“I used to talk back [to my critics] but it never did me any good. Now my strategy is to refuse to engage with them and not talking back – in this case – it says a whole lot.

“Please stay tuned for further drama. Don’t be ashamed. We’ve repeatedly exchanged insults in the past, but now let them insult us without us giving any reply. So, various foreigners will have to figure out that because they have insulted us too much, we’ve stopped speaking to them, too. That’s all for that,” he said.

In a Facebook post on February 5, Sam Rainsy – former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who faces a slew of outstanding court cases and is living in self-exile abroad – said without elaborating that Hun Sen is waiting until February 31 to be inoculated with the Chinese vaccine.

And in an emailed response to The Post for further comment on February 8, Rainsy said: “[Hun Sen’s] reaction shows his shame for not daring to take the possibly dangerous Chinese vaccine and his fear for the vibrant CNRP which enjoys strong national and international support.”

US-based political analyst James Sok said Hun Sen had used the words “vicious dogs” in likely reference to opposition leaders who are always opposed to the government.

“By saying he would not speak with foreigners who want to discuss political matters relating to the opposition, [Hun Sen] sent a message that there is no use responding to those who would stop at nothing to criticise the government and constantly inflate the situations, from donations for flood victims to the public’s contribution to vaccine purchase and now vaccination against Covid-19,” he said.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said that since Hun Sen cannot control Sam Rainsy or his mouth, the prime minister is therefore wise to be indifferent to him and his activities and to let the people judge them both by their actions and accomplishments.

“The way things are in the country – now and for the foreseeable future, it is highly doubtful Sam Rainsy can ever return to contest any election in person. Considering his current stature as a political force to be reckoned with, Sam Rainsy doesn’t need to return in person, though, to do so,” he said.