Cambodia's Hun Sen hails 'elimination' of opposition at mass rally

In typically bombastic comments, Mr Hun Sen vowed victory and took a swipe at his opponents.
In typically bombastic comments, Mr Hun Sen vowed victory and took a swipe at his opponents. PHOTO: AFP

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia's strongman ruler hailed on Friday (July 27) the success of efforts to "eliminate traitors" at a mass rally ahead of an election without a credible opposition that will leave the country as a virtual one-party state.

Tens of thousands of supporters decked in the ruling party's white and blue arrived from dawn in the centre of the capital, some on motorbikes and buses, in an impressive show of support for the Cambodia People's Party (CPP), which Premier Hun Sen has led for 33 years.

But it will be the only political showing of significant scale ahead of Sunday's election after the only serious opposition was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November.

In typically bombastic comments, Mr Hun Sen vowed victory on Sunday and took a swipe at his opponents, many of whom have been jailed, prodded into self-exile or have gone to ground inside the kingdom since the ruling.

"Recently we took legal action to eliminate traitors who attempted to topple the government," he said of the court ruling that disbanded the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

"If we didn't eliminate them with an iron fist, maybe by now Cambodia would be in a situation of war."

A pillar of Mr Hun Sen's appeal is that he has presided over peace and a level of prosperity since the early 1990s when Cambodia emerged from decades of war and the evisceration of the Khmer Rouge years.

"With the CPP we have growth, we have schools, peace... everything," said supporter Khun Bopha of a party that now presides over an economy chugging along at a growth rate of around six to seven per cent.

"We will have a big win on July 29."

The Supreme Court knocked out the opposition after Mr Hun Sen accused CNRP members of plotting against the government.

Rights groups, NGOs and the media were all swept up in the crackdown last year as Mr Hun Sen quashed critical voices and challengers in the lead-up to the vote.

The opposition, many of whose key members live abroad for fear of prosecution, have urged supporters to boycott the poll in a "clean finger" campaign to refuse to be inked at polling stations on Sunday.

Election authorities have said calls to boycott are a "crime" and have already fined five former members of the opposition in northern Cambodia after accusing them of taking part in the anti-election campaign.

The United States and the European Union have pulled assistance and monitors after challenging the credibility of the election.

But staunch Cambodia ally China has stepped in to provide equipment.

Cambodia has held six elections - including the first UN-sponsored poll in 1993 - after the country of 15 million emerged from decades of civil war.

Mr Hun Sen has cast himself as the saviour of the country from the ravages of the Khmer Rouge, even though he was a former member of the ultra-Maoist group.

Twenty parties are running in the election, but many are new or of obscure origins and have been widely criticised for helping legitimise the ballot by taking part.

"Cambodia's election is a sham process that is designed to prolong Hun Sen's authoritarian rule and will plunge the country into further misery and repression," International Federation for Human Rights Secretary-General Debbie Stothard said in a statement on Thursday.