In a boast reminiscent of US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Hun Sen went on a tangent on Wednesday before thousands of garment workers in Por Sen Chey district extolling his negotiating prowess, calling himself one of the top negotiators in the “history of world leaders”, while reiterating that he would not actually be engaging in any such negotiations with the opposition.
The premier emphasised the role he played in negotiating with former members of the Khmer Rouge, saying “Hun Sen’s presence [at negotiations] helped to solve the problems with the soldiers”. He also posited that the job of negotiator, in some ways, is even harder than the role of a soldier on a battlefield, explaining that in battle, the lower-ranked soldiers are the ones in the line of fire, while in negotiation, it’s the high-ranking combatants – like Hun Sen – who are the ones who see the action.
“There is no one using negotiation opportunities better than me in the history of world leaders,” the prime minister told the workers, adding that he had also been carrying out negotiations for longer than any other current leaders.
Political analyst Meas Nee, however, challenged the validity of Hun Sen’s boasts, saying such talks should not just result in a “winner and loser”.
“The negotiator is a person who enables the involved parties to work with one another and solve the problem,” Nee said. “If we look at the current political crisis in Cambodia, if the leader is good, the political crisis would not be stuck in the deadlock it is today, and I think that it would be solved already.”
Despite Hun Sen’s claim that his negotiation skills rival all others, the premier is maintaining his position that he will not entertain the possibility of talks with former members of the forcibly dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had previously been the only legitimate challenger to Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in this July’s national elections. On Monday, Hun Sen insisted that there would be no pardons for jailed opposition figures or talks with the CNRP.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan pinned the blame for the lack of compromise on former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, maintaining that Hun Sen is trying to “build a culture of dialogue” with the result that “all Cambodian people are happy and welcome”. Rainsy has been out of the country since 2015, fleeing a host of politically tinged convictions against him, including some in cases levelled by the premier himself.
“The convict Sam Rainsy is the one trying to destroy the culture of dialogue until it’s dead,” Eysan said.
Responding to Wednesday’s speech, Rainsy had a message for the Premier: “[B]eing really effective in negotiations aimed at peacefully resolving national issues requires at least two fundamental skills: intelligence, which he seems to demonstrate, and courage, which he has yet to show.”
“Hun Sen seems to be only guided by fear in his continuous refusal to engage in any negotiation with the CNRP, the only credible opposition party.”
This article previously said Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speech was given on Tuesday March 27. In fact it was given on Wednesday March 28. This has been amended.