Netizens in Cambodia took to social media Tuesday in the wake of a military coup in regional neighbor Myanmar to lambast their country’s government for its own authoritarian rule and to draw comparisons between the takeover and moves by Prime Minister Hun Sen to solidify power.
On Monday, Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, dissolved parliament in a bloodless coup that gave it control of the country. Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the democratically elected government and whose ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide of 2015 and 2020 elections, was taken into custody along with other party leaders.
The putsch, which saw General Min Aung Hlaing declare a one-year state of emergency, drew condemnation from Western governments and the United Nations, although neighboring countries such as China and Thailand offered more tepid responses, suggesting that the situation amounts to internal affairs.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia with an iron fist for more than three decades, issued a similar statement on Monday, saying he was “not interested” in the situation in Myanmar.
“In Yangon, the president and advisors were arrested, but Cambodia won’t comment on the internal issues of other countries that are members of ASEAN or other sovereign nations,” he said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“Myanmar is our friend in ASEAN. We only broadcast the news; we don’t comment on it.”
The coup and Hun Sen’s comments led to a barrage of comments on Facebook by Cambodians who drew parallels to life in their own country, which Hun Sen has ruled since 1985.
Some posted photos juxtaposing Hun Sen with Min Aung Hlaing, and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha—a retired Royal Thai Army general officer who has led Thailand since orchestrating a military coup against the government in 2014.
After losing U.N.-backed elections in 1993 and threatening to lead a secessionist movement, Hun Sen served as Cambodia’s Second Prime Minister alongside Prince Norodom Ranariddh until he staged a violent coup in 1997 and took over leadership of the nation.
Critics of the Prime Minister have referred to more recent events in Cambodia’s political history as a form of soft coup.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November 2017, for an alleged plot to overthrow the government. The ban of the CNRP marked the beginning of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
In a post on Tuesday, Cambodian Facebook user Vin Da said that superpower democracies should “clean dictators off the face of the earth” because they steal power from voters. His comments were echoed by Facebook user Hay Vanna, who wrote that people who love democracy “don’t need coups.”
Another Facebook user named Ly Ratanak Raksmey noted that the youth of Myanmar had dared to stand up to dictators ahead of the 2015 transition from junta rule to a democratically led government and suggested Cambodian youths should “follow in their footsteps.”
Netizens noted the similarities between the Tatmadaw coup and Hun Sen’s actions 1997 and 2017, while others suggested that, because Hun Sen had himself “grabbed power,” he was too “ashamed” to comment on the situation in Myanmar.
Responding to comments on social media, CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San told RFA’s Khmer Service that the ruling party’s continued hold on power following the 2017 ballot bore little resemblance to the coup in Myanmar because Hun Sen’s government was “formed by elections.”
“Cambodia never had a coup—the opposition party acknowledged their guilt and was dissolved by the Supreme Court, so that is why they fled the country,” he said.
But political commentator Kim Sok told RFA that both the Tatmadaw and Hun Sen’s party had solidified power via “coup.” He said Cambodia’s ruling party is holding an “ongoing coup against the country” to remain in control.
“Criticism [from Facebook users] reflects Cambodia’s reality,” he said.
“Hun Sen and Myanmar’s military leadership is the same. [Hun Sen] didn’t get power from the elections.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.