An “action plan” outlined by a member of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet ahead of Cambodia’s general election warns that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) must remove its “agents” from the opposition and should end support for smaller political parties in a bid to shore up power.
An email dated July 30, 2017, which was obtained by RFA’s Khmer Service over the weekend, appears to show a list of talking points compiled by Minister of Public Works and Transportation Sun Chanthol for Hun Sen ahead of a meeting of the CPP’s Central Committee in Koh Pich, on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh.
Sent nearly two months after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won nearly 44 percent of votes in Cambodia’s commune elections, compared to 51 percent for the ruling party, Sun Chanthol advises “SPM” (Samdech Prime Minister) to acknowledge that the CPP “will have a tougher election in 2018” and urge the party to “work harder” ahead of the July 29 general ballot.
In a section entitled “Action Plans for General Election,” the minister includes the bullet points “take out all CPP agents that stay with CNRP back to CPP” and “stop supporting the small parties,” although he advises that “they can participate in the election.”
Another talking point stresses the need for the CPP to “show the result of reforms to the people” by increasing national revenue, reducing criminal activities, increasing the salary of civil servants, providing better public service, and improving the education and health care sectors.
At the national level, Sun Chanthol writes, a poll should be conducted to “find out the popularity of the CPP.”
“Encourage the workers to register to vote where they work” and “increase the participation of the youth,” the email says, while “the PM [prime minister] will go campaigning also.”
“Monitor the Radio Free Asia and VOA [Voice of America],” it adds, referring to two U.S. government- funded broadcasters that have aired content critical of the CPP’s leadership.
On a local level, Son Chanthol writes that the CPP should “strengthen the local security and militia” in the communes won by the party in local elections, grow youth membership, and “set up one team of youth per commune to monitor the illegal activity of the opposition during the election.”
Sun Chanthol denied any knowledge of the alleged email when asked about it Tuesday by RFA’s Khmer Service and said he would be busy with meetings throughout the week.
On Wednesday, CPP spokesman Suos Yara rejected the authenticity of the purported leak in an interview with government-aligned Fresh News, calling it part of a bid to “mislead the public.”
In the months since the email is believed to have been sent, Cambodia’s government has arrested the CNRP’s leader, banned the party outright, and placed severe restrictions on NGOs and the media.
Authorities arrested CNRP chief Kem Sokha in September on charges of “treason,” and two months later the Supreme Court ruled to disband his party for allegedly planning a “rebellion” with backing from Washington, essentially eliminating any challenge to the CPP ahead of the vote this year.
Cambodian authorities have also used a pretext of tax and administrative violations to close independent radio stations carrying reports from RFA and Voice of America, and forced the closure of the American-owned Cambodia Daily newspaper in early September. RFA shuttered its Phnom Penh bureau soon after.
In recent statements, the U.S. and EU said the CPP’s targeting of the opposition, media and civil society had called the legitimacy of Cambodia’s 2018 general election into question, withdrawing electoral support and placing trade agreements with the Southeast Asian nation under review.
Hun Sen has maintained that the vote will proceed as planned, and said it does not require international recognition to give it legitimacy.