Occasionally I come under verbal attacks about my commentaries here; therefore, I believe a word of clarification is in order. It appears as though I am a harsh critic of both Ms. Mu Sochua and Sam Rainsy, and indeed I am. I may have mentioned it before; I don’t doubt their personal integrity, but I do not support their kind of opposition politics. The goals in their party platform are laudable. But their way of getting their message out to the public hasn’t produced the desired results, not only because of their perennial claim of massive election frauds, but probably mostly because of the SRP leaders’ lack of appeal to the general public in Cambodia. In my view, they conduct confrontational opposition politics, which has historically been proven very counterproductive in a political arena such as Cambodia. Both may claim conciliatory steps haven’t been successful either, but I have yet to see those steps. The 1997 grenade attack may have been the pivotal incident that changed and formed their minds forever. But they seemingly forget the axiom that any action will provoke a reaction. A policy of positive engagement is oftentimes more conducive to producing results than what is practiced by the opposition in Cambodia today. Continuing along this path, they will never see the light of day in their lifetime. Indonesia, nowadays the showcase democracy in SE Asia, might perhaps most aptly serve as a precedent to follow.
Now why would I as a foreigner comment on the political situation in Cambodia? Do I understand the machinations of politics there at all? I believe I do. Do I have a right to express my thoughts? Absolutely. Am I an expert whose words are heeded? I am as much an expert as any blogger or even journalist who has spent considerable time following politics in Cambodia. Some of my detractors would be surprised about some of the people who read my commentaries. In addition, when I write about something I do the necessary required research first, and don’t just take snippets out of context and twist them around to fit my purpose, as some of my fellow bloggers are liable to do.
Followers of this blog may by now know that I have spent a considerable time in Cambodia from 1989 to the present, I am married to a Khmer wife, have 3 Khmer children, they are all Khmer nationals with Khmer passports, I have invested considerable amounts of money in Cambodia, and chose to make Cambodia my permanent home (although I now only spend about one third of the year there but that will change again next year). I speak out in their name and their and my interest, both human and economic, in Cambodia. Three members of my family are voters, and I am their voice. As opposed to all those many critics of the government and the current situation in Cambodia, the majority of them evidently overseas Khmer, my family and I choose to live in Cambodia and work within the system to improve the situation as much as we can and our own circumstances allow us. We may have a limited effect on the overall situation, but at least we do something proactive. This is what gives me the right to write this blog about Cambodia, let alone the often-invoked right of freedom of expression.
It is easy to stand on the high ground and criticize, condemn, vilify, and even slander your political opponent while sitting in an easy chair abroad or even in Cambodia, enjoying the good life. It is even easier to write long articles and ‘expertises’ on the situation in Cambodia as a highly paid NGO-employee, who has never seen misery in their lives, and most likely never experienced an oppressive dictatorial regime. And a lot of bloggers and NGOs are clearly out of their depths. Do we ever really hear from the poor, the low-income worker, the average homeland Khmer, in other words, the majority of the Khmer population? And do those self-appointed defenders of human rights and equality really have those people’s interests at heart first?
Which brings me to the latest cause célèbre - Ms. Mu Sochua, her recently very public persona and her fight for democracy. One of her latest public pronouncements was that she is not doing this for herself but for the people, when speaking about her testimony before a U. S. Congress commission.
As an elected member of parliament it is highly doubtful whether another country’s legislative body is the right forum to air her personal grievances and call for sanctions against her own country, shrouding it in her professed fight for democracy, human rights in general, and women’s rights in particular. It casts grave doubts on her role as an MP and as a citizen of Cambodia to ask a foreign government to interfere in her own country’s internal affairs.
Let’s back up a little to see how this latest series of events started. During the election campaign the P. M. described someone with a certain expression, the interpretation of which is arguable; by inference he probably meant Ms. Mu Sochua, but he denied it. Mind you, that happened in the run-up to the general election in July 2008. It took Ms. Sochua an entire ten months to decide she felt slighted and brought an action for defamation against the P. M., obviously trying to beat him at his own game (the P.M. vs. Sam Rainsy), and possibly to demonstrate the extent of bias and influence of the government on the judiciary. However, one just doesn’t wait 10 months to feel insulted. One does this within a reasonable period of time, e. g. 30 days, or perhaps until shortly after the election. Why then did she wait this long? The rest of the story is known. I mentioned it before; I don’t think the whole affair has been handled in a fair manner by the P.M. either, though, and believe he received bad advice.
What I want to bring to the foreground is the time-span between the insult and the lawsuit, which is never mentioned anywhere. It’s just not credible. This is pure politics and not a fight for women’s rights. This is an ego thing. And you don’t expect to win that lawsuit. She publicly stated as much early on. She is ready to go to prison for this minor incident. She seems to be using this as a pretense to describe or morph herself into a political martyr, modeled on Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar. The difference is the latter won an election.
In this entire context, all her ensuing public actions appear as political maneuvering and tactics rather than working for the people, as she claims. Ms. Sochua portrays herself as a fighter for democracy and human rights. I believe her. Only her choice of tactics appears to be out of sync with those goals.
In the U. S. a few senators sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense requesting information on U.S. aid to the Cambodian military, attaching a report by the Human Rights Watch as testimony. As much as I believe this organization does honorable work, what bothers me in that report is the frequent use of the words ‘alleged’ and ‘is reported’. I read about the incidents but can’t comment on them for lack of inside knowledge, and I do not claim these incidents did not take place. Human Rights Watch should make the evidence public. What also bothers me is the frivolity of U. S. senators who routinely vote for the funding of the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and Afghanistan, where severe violations of human rights were committed by the U. S. military and other government agencies. These senators certainly do have the right to ask how U. S. aid money is spent, but their inquiry certainly appears hypocritical. And… the U. S. Congress has an Armed Services Committee overseeing the defense budget.
Recently six former CIA chiefs asked the president not to prosecute the people who ordered or committed torture by U. S. government personnel in the past. Both former president Bush and his vice president Cheney defended the use of torture, or ‘special interrogation techniques’ as they called it. The former vice president to this day says this is vital in the defense of the U. S. Rendition continues even under president Obama. In view of that all the efforts by the S. R. P. to enlist the U. S. in its fight for ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, and ‘human rights’ have a very hollow ring. It is nothing but plain hypocrisy.