Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Recent News

Yesterday the Phnom Penh Post published and interview with Dr. Lao Mong Hay, a researcher with the Asian Human Rights Commission and former member of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front.

Dr. Lao is very critical of the current government with respect to human rights and other civil issues. What’s remarkable is that this KPNLF was allied with the Khmer Rouge, the same way the former King was. Of course, it was all in the interest and furtherance of human rights. I am not saying that people can’t reform and have a change of mind and philosophy but the fact remains that people, no matter what shade of political color, who allied themselves with the Khmer Rouge are just as responsible for their actions as the Khmer Rouge themselves. And this does not exclude the U. S., the United Nations, where the Khmer Rouge held the seat of Cambodia, and the Chinese, and finally King Sihanouk himself. Events and actions leading up to the 1993 elections may possibly be excluded, but let’s face it, all these talks and conferences were held for political expediency to see that each party got its objectives implemented.

This is not to say that Dr. Lao was complicit, but those explanations that one was not really involved always sound sort of hollow. Additionally, Dr. Lao is now a staunch royalist, and sometimes his views as expressed in his commentaries on Asian Online are somewhat out of tune with the reality of present time.

However, what I wanted to highlight when citing this interview are the following passages:

What do you think about the new alliance between the SRP and HRP?
I don't think the two parties could work very well together. There are clashes of personality. There are no clear ideas or policies. This sort of alliance comes and goes, and they'll need to work hard to consolidate their unity.

What do you think caused the royalists' decline in politics?
Authoritarianism. When leaders are so autocratic, their subordinates lose their creativity. I have met some of them. At the beginning, they were very bright, but after one or two years there were no more ideas because they were not allowed to think.

There are some princes that have continued to be in politics, for instance Sisowath Sirirath. The nation might be in crisis later on, and we might need the royalists as we did in the 1980s and 1990s. And who can be sure our ruler will not appoint his descendants, like Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il have? He could become King under a new name.

How do the old political leaders - like Son Sann - compare with new leaders, like Sam Rainsy or Kem Sokha?
Some of those old leaders started off with work experience as government officials and then, when the French left, they became leaders. For the time that the French had been in Cambodia, they left behind a reasonable working system of government: the basic institutions of the Cambodian state, and the rule of law. So we were more conscious about rules. Compare this to leaders now. How long was Sam Rainsy in government? Two years, and at the top. And Kem Sokha: What work experience in public administration does he have?


So authoritarianism is to blame for the royalists decline? What should the royalists’ role in a democracy be anyway?

The royalists have nothing going for them except that they were born into a royal family. Retaining a royal title and entering politics is taking advantage of their ancestry by implying to less educated people they know better than the rest. And, one must not forget that kings were historically authoritarian. Only the uprising of the disenfranchised masses changed that.

It appears that most of the royals in Cambodia still seem to consider this ‘their’ country and people, and not that they are just one of the people. King Sihanouk is the best example when he still refers to the people as ‘my children’. He is not and never was the father of the nation, most certainly not during the difficult political times of the 60ies and 70ies.

So I would think that royals should just relinquish their royalty if they want to enter politics – and be Mr. or Mrs. Citizen like everybody else.

A very interesting point he made, however, is on the alliance between SRP and HRP. So there are no clear ideas or policies? Well, I am just a lowly blogger in this case, but if anybody cares to check many comments I made on this blog, this is exactly what I, as a neutral observer, have pointed out for a long time. Blasting the government is no alternative and no way to set change in motion. Personally, I don’t know about their personalities, but if reports from people who are familiar with this are to be believed, this alliance won’t survive the next elections. And the opposition’s lack of experience is actually frightening. The current government isn’t the best by any stretch, but I would fear for Cambodia’s future if the opposition came to power in the near future.

The whole interview can be read here:

Please note that KI-Media, otherwise an ardent publisher of Dr. Lao’s views, this time did not re-publish the Phnom Penh Post’s interview on their blog.


Another interesting tidbit comes courtesy of KI-Media, which posted the SBS video on ‘Country for Sale’ on their website. I did not bother to watch it but the excerpt with the interview of the Australian ambassador is definitely intriguing.

A similar dwelling as Dey Krahom had to be removed and people moved elsewhere to make room for the new Australian embassy. Now, obviously this is somewhat hard to explain in view of the outrage that followed the Dey Krahom saga. As ambassador of a democratic nation that strives to observe human rights she is surely aware of the sensitivity of this issue but seemingly did not really know how to handle that curve-ball.

But maybe this just goes to show how difficult it really is to know what to do and what not to do in situations like this, as opposed to how it should be done?

MARGARET ADAMSON: No, I understand what the principles are, but it is difficult indeed to actually have the documentation, documentation that is accepted, to enable those claims to be respected.


Anonymous said...


What kind of political systems does Cambodia have at the present time ?

KJE said...

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. The King is the head of state without any real power. He is a figurehead whose role is to sign laws. The parliament consists of two chambers, the assembly and the senate. After the last election in 2008 one party, the CPP, emerged with a 92 seats majority out of 124 seats. The curtailment of the opposition's role by parliamentary rules makes Cambodia practically a one-party state. The prime minister wields vast power. His word is law. Is it a dictatorship under a democratic guise? Not quite, but it comes close.