PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned his party it could still lose next year’s election even after the banning of the opposition and demanded that it improve its image, according to a recording leaked online on Thursday.
Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) played down the importance of the message, in which Hun Sen tells senior officials they must stop corruption, extortion and other illegal practices and start making people happy.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was banned at the government’s request last week, deepening Hun Sen’s fight with Western donors who accuse him of demolishing democracy in the country he has ruled for over 32 years.
“It doesn’t mean that now the opposition is dissolved we can be careless,” Hun Sen says in the 12-minute recording of a message to party officials, warning that his opponents could start a new party and should not be underestimated.
“If we get bad results and lose it would be twice as bad after we already dissolved the opposition party... People can also dissolve us through an election.”
He said the international community could try to “revive their puppets” and channel funding to Cambodia despite a five-year political ban on 118 CNRP politicians.
The CNRP was banned after its leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested for allegedly plotting treason with American help. He has rejected the accusations as a ploy to let Hun Sen win next year’s election.
In his message, Hun Sen called on party officials to stop corruption, extortion, illegal logging and other irregularities that had pushed Cambodians to vote for the opposition.
“Votes were cast because of anger due to our mistakes in the past and that cannot happen again,” Hun Sen said in the recording.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the message had not been secret. He did not say when the recording had been made.
“There is nothing to hide,” he said. “He was doing his work as the party leader and the prime minister.”
The 55 parliamentary seats that the CNRP won in the last election in 2013 were allocated to smaller parties on Thursday by the National Election Committee.
The biggest winner was the royalist Funcinpec party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was once Hun Sen’s main rival but is now aligned with the prime minister.
Funcinpec will get 41 seats in parliament - a third of all the seats - despite winning less than 4 percent of the vote in 2013. The ruling party did not get any more seats, but already had a majority with 68 seats.
“The will of the people has been violated,” said Mu Sochua, a deputy to Kem Sokha who fled abroad in fear of arrest. “The National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia has lost its legitimacy.”
Editing by Matthew Tostevin