Scare tactics won’t work with Hun Sen

Op-Ed: Bangkok Post, Scare tactics won’t work with Hun Sen

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks during a ceremony in Phnom Penh on Jan 14, where he said he would ‘step on the throat’ of his rivals if the EU ends preferential trading with the country. (AFP photo)

After six months of close monitoring and engaging with the Cambodian government, the European Union (EU) found that Cambodia has made very little tangible progress in complying with the EU’s demands that it reinstate democratic checks-and-balances, respect human rights and the independence of the media, and drop charges against members of the opposition party.

ASEAN and EU concerned on Cambodia as Hun Sen is heading to turn down democracy

As a result, the EU on Feb 11 began the process to temporarily strip Cambodia of its Everything-but-Arms (EBA) status, which gives it a preferential, tariff-free channel to export all of its products — except for weapons — to the EU.

EU’s Resolution on Cambodia

On the surface, it may seem as if the EU is trying to hurt Cambodia’s economy. However, the objective behind the use of such a “threat” is to force Hun Sen and the executives of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) — many of whom are running lucrative businesses across the country — to soften its stance and comply with the EU’s conditions.

Unfortunately, this sort of coercive diplomacy may not yield results.

Hun Sen is still consolidating his grip over the CPP, and any attempt to challenge his position in the party is virtually impossible. After Chea Sim, the former chairman of the CPP passed away in 2015, he took over the party helm and became its chief.

After he took up the position, Hun Sen has been strengthening his faction by promoting his close allies and relatives to the party’s central and permanent committees. During the CPP’s General Assembly last December, for instance, the premier promoted two of his sons — General Hun Manet, the Commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, and MP Hun Many — to the party’s permanent committee, along with several other senior military officials.

While it is true that Hun Sen has yet to fully bring the the CPP under his control — there are other political factions that are loyal to other CPP elites, including Interior Minister Sar Kheng and National Assembly President Heng Samring — his firm control over the military and civil sectors means his opponents within the CPP have very little chance of challenging his dominance.

As such, the EU’s use of a threat to indirectly pressure Hun Sen into compliance might not be practical after all.

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