The relatives of jailed opposition members and protesting casino workers in Cambodia are appealing for help with their cases from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son – widely seen as next in line to lead the nation – saying they no longer have faith in the current administration.
A group of activists from the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), whose cases rights groups say are politically motivated, sent a letter to Royal Cambodia Army Commander Hun Manet in late August, urging him to ensure their freedom and allow them to participate in a general election slated for 2023.
The wife of jailed CNRP activist Kong Mas, Kol Sat, who along with other relatives has held regular demonstrations calling for the release of their loved ones, told RFA Khmer that she had begun writing directly to Hun Manet to intervene in her husband’s case because she had given up on Hun Sen and hopes that his son will be more reasonable if he becomes prime minister.
“To me when Hun Sen is out, there is only Hun Manet who can help because no one can challenge him. He controls the military and the country,” she said, adding that she believes Hun Manet is influential enough to free her husband and restore democracy to the country.
Kong Mas and the other jailed CNRP activists had been targeted by Hun Sen in the years following the Supreme Court’s dissolution of the party in November 2017. The court also placed a five-year ban precluding 118 CNRP lawmakers from participating in political activities.
Laid off workers from the NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh who have been striking for the past eight months also recently reached out to Hun Manet for help in getting reinstated to their jobs.
In August, authorities violently clashed with around 100, mostly female, of the workers as they sought to protest in front of their former workplace, injuring several of them. The group’s petitions to the government for assistance have largely gone unanswered.
One of the workers told RFA on condition of anonymity that she sees Hun Manet as a powerful figure within the ruling Cambodian People’s party (CPP) who can help them resolve their labor dispute.
“Hun Manet is a prime minister candidate. I want him to help as a guardian or father,” she said.
“We have already submitted petitions to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the National Assembly but we need additional intervention.”
RFA could not reach Hun Manet for comment and questions sent to him through Facebook messenger went unanswered on Friday.
In July, Cambodia’s National Assembly advanced a proposed change to the country’s constitution eliminating the need for the legislature to approve a prime minister designated by the king. Critics said the change would all but ensure Hun Manet succeeds his father, who has ruled the country since 1985 and is now 69.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said the casino workers and opposition party activists are desperate for help and shifted their efforts to Hun Manet because they have lost hope in Hun Sen and other government leaders.
He said he also believes that Hun Manet can help resolve the disputes if he intervenes.
“To show the public that the prime ministerial candidate can do the job, [the requests] should be honored,” Rong Chhun said.
However, CPP spokesman Sok Ey San on Friday dismissed calls by activists for Hun Manet’s help, saying he cannot intervene in the disputes because he is not prime minister. He also accused opposition party activists and workers from NagaWorld of breaching the law.
“I welcome their support [of Hun Manet] but if they support him only for illegal benefits, it can’t be done,” he said. “His Excellency can’t resolve illegal requests.”
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