Senior military official and son of the prime minister Hun Manet yesterday joined his father in using an event to commemorate the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge as an opportunity to voice authorities’ commitment to thwarting any attempts to topple the current government through a so-called “colour revolution”.
At a military exhibition and sporting event to commemorate the “Victory over Genocide Regime” holiday, officially marked on January 7, Manet told reporters the army would not allow any elements in the country to affect its “stability and development” by breaking the country’s democratic principles.
“The RCAF commits to prevent it from happening on our land because it can lead to the breaking up of our internal stability and development,” he said.
“RCAF is committed to protect the constitutional and legitimate government that is born from elections every five years.”
However, it is the ruling party that has been accused of stymieing democracy in wake of the widely condemned dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party in November, which was accused – with little evidence – of fomenting a foreign-backed “lotus revolution”.
Multiple international observers, governments and rights groups have called the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s stifling of the opposition, civil society and independent media a major threat to the credibility of this year’s elections, which will feature no viable competitor to the CPP.
Yesterday’s event, which was held last year as well, comes after Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed thousands of party supporters on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich on Sunday and warned that the alleged revolution had been ended, but that there were still “ill-willed circles” of people looking to restart the uprising.
Yesterday, heavy military equipment was on display on Koh Pich, including armoured trucks, Z9 helicopter gunships, bomb disposal equipment and T-55 tanks. Starting today, the public will be invited to view the display and even snap photos while pretending to shoot a rifle. They can also compete in boot camp-style obstacle courses alongside military personnel.
Manet rejected suggestions that the display of military might was aimed at intimidating Cambodians, saying there would not have been thousands of people at the event last year if that was the case.
“The exhibition of our army equipment here is to show the public about our armed forces’ capability to protect our territory,” he said.
But political observer Lao Mong Hay yesterday said the public was well aware that the armed forces seemed more inclined to protect the ruling party, prime minister and his family, rather than focusing on their intended role to protect from external threats.
“Our army in the last two or three years has paid attention only to internal affairs, and that contradicts its role,” he said. “The army has been used to protect the power of the ruling person or the government and to strengthen his power.”
Focusing on Manet’s comments, Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said Manet was parroting his father’s political rhetoric, showing “his minion mentality in the thrall of his father, and [demonstrating] again how little he learned during his educational foray in the United States”.