PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has challenged his top political rival: take an oath to have lightning strike you dead if you falsely claim that last month's general election was unfair.
Hun Sen, speaking Monday to Cambodian athletes heading later this month to the Asian Games in Indonesia, was responding to the claims of Sam Rainsy that the July 29 polls were fraudulent and that the 82 percent turnout figure was inflated. He called Sam Rainsy a good liar who often created news to deceive the public.
Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won a landslide victory in an election the opposition and independent observers criticized as neither free nor fair. The only credible opposition, Sam Rainsy's Cambodia National Rescue Party, was dissolved by court order last year, a move that was widely seen as politically motivated and initiated by Hun Sen's government.
The challenge appeared to be a way of countering the criticism by impressing the many Cambodians who are superstitious. Especially in rural areas, people in disputes often invite their rivals to take an oath before a statue of Buddha or a holy spirit as a way of resolving their conflict.
Sam Rainsy, who is in self-imposed exile to avoid prison on what he views as a politically inspired defamation conviction, acknowledged the challenge on his Facebook page and said he would take such an oath if the government first allowed a recount of the ballots with the participation of international observers and observers from his own disbanded party. He contended that the voter turnout was less than 50 percent, rather than the 82 percent claimed by the government and the state National Election Committee.
Leaders of the disbanded CNRP had urged voters to boycott the polls.
Sam Rainsy, a CNRP founder, has been Hun Sen's nemesis for many years. Their rivalry plays out publicly on social media, with the two competing for greater numbers of followers on Facebook.
In addition to being forced to stay abroad, Sam Rainsy was kicked out from his parliamentary seat and forced to resign from his party, which was then dissolved last year after the government-friendly Supreme Court ruled it was implicated in trying to unseat the government with the backing of the United States, a charge without any convincing evidence. Although his former party was not able to contest the election, they were denounced repeatedly by Hun Sen during the campaign.
Hun Sen, who technically is only a caretaker prime minister until his party's election victory is validated and his government sworn in, said he had asked his legal experts to see if he can be sworn in earlier than the planned Sept. 19 date so he can attend the U.N. General Assembly session in New York which opens on Sept. 18.
He said his intention in joining the annual U.N. meeting is to prove to the world that his new government is legitimate and to show his opponents abroad that he is not afraid of their protests or their threats that he should be arrested and tried by the International Criminal Court.