Across the Prek Pnov Bridge, where Phnom Penh adjoins neighbouring Kandal province, a massive stone spire commemorating the achievements of Prime Minister Hun Sen is rising from the flat plain.
Dubbed the Win-Win Monument, the building is primarily meant to celebrate Hun Sen’s oft-cited “Win-Win Policy” of allowing Khmer Rouge holdouts to keep their military positions in exchange for defecting to government forces, ending decades of civil war.
Now, according to Defence Minister Tea Banh, it will also commemorate something else: the ruling party’s campaign to encourage opposition defections after the highly controversial decision to dissolve its only significant rival for power earlier this month.
Speaking at the daunting, bunker-like building on Tuesday, Banh said that Hun Sen’s new policy of encouraging defections also deserved to be enshrined.
“The Win-Win Policy was extended to the new situation; as we have seen, he issued the policy after the CNRP dissolution,” he said. “So these are new things, but they will be included later.”
The Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the Kingdom’s largest opposition party – over widely derided accusations that it was fomenting a foreign-backed “revolution”. The premier has urged former members of the CNRP to defect to the ruling party, and has attempted to draw parallels between this policy and that of the 1990s.
The Win-Win Monument is made up of slabs of sheer, angular stone – the same type used in the construction of Angkor Wat. But rather than religious icons, construction workers have adorned the foundations of the building with sculpted panels depicting events in the career of Hun Sen.
The tableaux include scenes of the premier sitting in a circle of commoners eating rice, leading a group of soldiers out of a forest, and lecturing at a blackboard.
Worst rights violation
According to Banh, sculptors will also carve a testament to the aftermath of the CNRP’s dissolution, which many in the international community have condemned as the worst violation of political rights in Cambodia in decades.
And while the premier has been quick to congratulate himself for the achievement, analysts have said the comparison between the Win-Win Policy of the 1990s and that of today is misguided, primarily because Hun Sen manufactured the conflict with the CNRP in the first place.
Banh said he had appealed to the Finance Ministry for extra funding for the monument, despite government officials originally pledging to independently finance the project.
One of the sculptors working on the bas reliefs said each carving took 10 artists one week to complete.
“We follow their orders because they hired us. We still use the traditional tools to sculpt, but for other countries, they have more modern tools than this. They might be able to do it better than us,” explained the sculptor, who declined to give his name.
“The sculptures will last for thousands of years, like Angkor Wat,” he added.
The latest move in a months-long crackdown on dissent, which has seen dozens of opposition members and rights activists either jailed or flee abroad, saw Hun Sen demand the closure of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. The centre must be shuttered “because this one does what it’s told by foreigners”, the premier said on November 26.