Senate president Hun Sen Has informed Japanese ambassador Atsushi Ueno that there is no room for extremist groups in a democratic society. He expected that without such groups, democracy will flourish.

Hun Sen met with Ueno at the Japanese embassy on May 18, following an invitation by the ambassador.

In a social media post, Hun Sen explained that he had suggested that Ueno wait to see how quickly democracy flourishes when there are fewer extremists involved.

“I predict that with the absence of the older generation of extremists, young people will drive rapid progress in the democratic process [in Cambodia],” he said.

“In a democracy, there can be no room for radicals or extremist movements. Even in France, there are concerns about the far-right movement of Le Pen. Elections are for the safety of the people, not for war. Extremist movements could lead to war,” he added.

Hun Sen has previously described former opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his supporters as “extreme”, and explained that they had been outlawed in connection with criticism of the election and for calls for the armed forces to turn their weapons against the government.

Ou Chanrath, president of the Cambodia Reform Party, believed that “extremist” actions were generally stronger than words. He was of the opinion that a movement could only be called extreme if its actions violated the law or the constitution.

“Extremists are those who are far right or too far left, like the Khmer Rouge, because were they prepared to kill for their cause. This makes the Khmer Rouge an extremist group. ISIS is also called extreme,” he said, in reference to the Islamic State.

“I do not believe that expressing criticism or using insults is extremist behavior. Some people may see it otherwise, but for me, their behavior is not what I would call extreme. Of course, it is possible that their behavior is immoral,” he added.

“There is extremism in every society, but to what extent? We also need to determine what level of extremism should be punishable,” he continued.

Pa Chanroeun, president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, suggested that some politicians in Cambodia – both from the opposition and ruling parties – have room to improve, in terms of respecting democratic principles. He noted that some politicians brought their personal issues into the political process and used them as grounds to attack each other.

He warned that when personal or family issues are the cause of political differences, it can lead to extremism.

He also noted that political tolerance appeared to be low, while in a democratic society, different opinions are respected. 

Regarding the far-right ideology of France’s Le Pen in France, he believed that France was cautious in its approach, so as to be mindful of individual rights.

Chanroeun suggested that extremism is best prevented when civic education, human rights and equality are all at a high level, as well as the elimination of any other social issues that may lead to radical behavior.

Kin Phea, head of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, warned that extremist politics or strategies would lead to societal chaos, affecting social order, international relations and democracy. 

“Political contests should have a common goal: they should be for the sake of the nation. They should try to make the best choices to support for stability, peace, development, prosperity, democracy, sovereign and integrity,” he said.

“Politicians should avoid becoming vindictive and fighting with each other. Take the case of Sam Rainsy opposing the Funan Techo Canal project. I think this is ridiculous,” he said, referring to the upcoming infrastructure project. 

The canal reportedly enjoys wide-spread support among the Cambodian public.