Sunday, September 20, 2009

Clarification

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.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

May be you do not have all the fact straight.
The fact is that the PM continue to insult the MP.
PM Mu Sochua filed lawsuit against the prime minister - for comments he made in Kampot on April 4.

Anonymous said...

That is the credibility gap.

Anonymous said...

You should know or pretend not to know tha Cambodia is Hun Sen. No bod else is right but him. He would trash the country should there be a fair election body in place. Remember 1993 ? Anyway, you should live 100% time in Cambodia, execting your Khmer wife and relatives to stay put and cark in Cambodia under Hun Sen's feet. It is ridiculous to compare to your own USA country to Cambodia in terms of corruption, human rights abuse, etc.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is credible until all are under CPP's absolute control, from toilets to the courts.

Anonymous said...

Bad advice as an excuse? What a lame excuse !!!

Anonymous said...

Believing someone is a fighter for democracy and human rights but not working for the people is an oxymoron.

Anonymous said...

PM Hun counter lawsuit made himself the laughing-stock.

Anonymous said...

MP Mu makes PM Hun beats himself at his own game (defamation lawsuit).

Anonymous said...

Why do you never really hear from the poor, the low-income worker, the average homeland Khmer, in other words, the majority of the Khmer population?

Anonymous said...

I hope that Cambodian parliament invite you to testify about Human Rights and the Rule of Law in USA.

Anonymous said...

Madam Mu speaks for the poor mass, the evicted, the powerless. I don't know why this barang can't see, but Hun Sen. Hope you will not testify that 50% of poor Khmer, human rights abuse, child trafficking, and corruption were caused by the opposition.

Anonymous said...

If PM Hun Sen reads (can he?) this post, he might get idea to suit his advisors claiming suffering as a result of poor quality advice.

KJE said...

You all don't get what I mean.

Anonymous said...

Maybe because our English is not good enough, like yours.

berthelot said...

Thank you for your time and effort. Your blog is the best I know on Cambodia among the many that I read.

Anonymous said...

The last time, I heard about Aung San Suu Kyi connecting to MP Mu case is in a speech given by PM Hun during a distribution of diplomas to students graduating from the university of law and economic science in the morning of August 12. You invoked the name of novel prize winner in a similar degrading manner. This thought put you a lot closer to the dictator value than the value of civilized world.

Norbert Klein said...

When I write, I do not argue about that a foreigner – living in Cambodia or not, married to a Cambodian or not - should not comment about political events in Cambodia. What I say would equally apply to other countries, big or small, rich or poor. Also, I do not argue here whether I share or do not share your opinions and judgments.

But comments should not stretch the facts too much or distort them. I want to point to two items.

First, you speak about “the SRP leaders’ lack of appeal to the general public in Cambodia.” How do you measure this? These are some of the results of the National Election 2003 and 2008 related to the CPP and the SRP - the “appeal” is reflected in the number of votes (the number of seats in the National Assembly is the result of applying the mathematical rules of the election law). These are the numbers of votes cast; percentages relate to the total turnout.

2003
CPP: 2,447,259 - 47.3%
SRP: 1,130,423 – 21.9%
Funcinpec: 1,072,313 - 20.8%

2008
CPP: 3,492,374 - 58.11%
SRP: 1,316,714 – 21.91%
Norodom Ranariddh Party; 337,943 - 5.62%
Funcinpec; 303,764 – 5.05%

Yes, the results of the SRP are far below the CPP. But I consider it more appropriate to say that those parties who got 1.9%, 1.5%, 1.2% and 1.1% in 2003, or 5.62%, 2%, 1.15% , 0.54% , 0.42% , 0.23% in 2008, really lack appeal in the general public. You don't get 20% if you don't have considerable appeal - many parties in coalition governments in other countries have much less. (All these figures are from the Internet/Wikipedia – some may prefer to use other sources.)

Second, you say “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” - for this you accuse others. Then you say: “It took Ms. Sochua an entire ten months to decide she felt slighted and brought an action for defamation against the P. M.” - where did you get this time of ten months from?

4 April 2009: The Prime Minister spoke about a “choeng klang” - without mentioning the name of Mu Sochua, though she took offense as she thought that the reference was clearly enough (for her) pointing to her. So she announced on 23 April her intention to sue the Prime Minister. 20 days – not ten months pondering how she felt and what to do. And the court re-acted with a speed seldom seen.

KJE said...

5:53
Don't read something into it that's not there. There was nothing degrading about Aung San Suu Kyi in my reference to her.

KJE said...

Norbert Klein:
I sometimes get confronted with the position that as a 'barang' I don't understand nor do I have the 'right' to talk about Cambodian affair. Naturally, you as a journalist would not support such a notion. But I felt it necessary to make that statement.

As for your two points:

You refer to the election results for the SRP party. I referred to the leaders' lack of appeal. Voters vote for a candidate who represents a party and their program. Both you and I know that for the majority of the voters the persona is as important as the issues he/she stands for. Although the election results for the SRP are not negligible and they indeed represent a rather large segment of the population, the fact of the matter is that the SRP has not managed to garner a higher percentage in the past 10 years. They remained at the same level. The leaders have not been able to mobilize a larger share of the population to vote SRP. The conclusion is that the leaders personally do not have the appeal and the charisma to sway swing voters or convince CPP-voters to go with them. This is reinforced by many conversation I had with Khmer voters both in PP and in rural areas - many of them former SRP voters. It is always the candidate for the highest office who holds the appeal and is the determining factor in the outcome of a national election, whether elected directly or indirectly. In Western countries the candidate who loses an election steps aside and the party usually nominates a new, fresh face with greater allure. Sam Rainsy has not done that. The current P. R. campaign involving Mu Sochua might be the first step in grooming a new candidate and leader for the SRP.

I stand corrected on the time lapse between the speech and the lawsuit. I apologize for that error and the conclusion I drew. Many news reports referred to the speech made in the election campaign, which I automatically assumed to be the national election last year. Nevertheless, the main thrust of my argument is that Ms. Mu Sochua's lawsuit was frivolous to begin with and in my opinion would have been thrown out by a Western court as well. She has been using the ensuing developments - some of them unfortunate - as a launching pad for international prominence.

As a reminder here is a translation of the speech by the PM:

“Those opposition people do not have anything other than using the people as their tools to attack the government. And in Kampot, there is a ’strong person’ (cheung klang) who is a woman that I do not need to mention her name because there are other women like Mrs. Som Kim Sour, who is also a cheung klang. This woman is not strong in building anything, but strong in making trouble, creating one trouble after another, strong in inciting trouble, even during the election campaign she rushed to hug someone and accused that person of unbuttoning her blouse. It is really absurd. She is really good at taking legal action against someone. Even she didn’t get invited to a conference, she still go to that meeting. One day, when I was leaving the conference I was informed that she was trying to get into the conference even when she was not invited. This is what we called the opposition people who have thick faces, even if we chop them with a machete 100 times, it won’t cut through their faces. Their females are the same as their males and their leaders as well as the subordinates are all the same (trouble-makers)."

'Strong leg' has at least two meanings, one complimentary, and one derogatory, and the English 'knuckle head' would probably come close to 'thick face'. Sam Rainsy called the CPP people 'thieves' and 'murderers' in overseas radio broadcasts. I rather think they both treat each other with the same profound contempt and have no qualms about saying it out loud.

KJE said...

As an afterthought about political speeches and disparagement of opponents I advise all those people who have access to the Internet to follow U. S. news reports about the president and his opponents, both public and private, and what they have to say about each other, and what choice words they use in describing each other.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

KJE goes to extra length to justify that he understands and have the 'right' to talk about Cambodian affair.
Of course he has followers. Berthelot said KJE blog is the best he knows on Cambodia.
Norbert Klein wisely reminds KJE that comments should not stretch the facts.

Not all 'barangs' are the same.

Anonymous said...

KJE's comments remind me of Western Marxists like Michael Vickery, Helen Jarvis, Ben Kiernan, among others: The opposition and the victims always have themselves to blame.

Anonymous said...

KJE, my advice. Stick to rubber plantations.

Anonymous said...

More concession or colonial lands have been approved for Vietnamese rubber plantations, so soon KJE will find himself compete with the Viets.

KJE said...

11:55
That is complete nonsense, and you know it.

12:07
What, I can't have a political opinion?

1:23
Correct, but by the time their plantations are ready, I'll be retired. And for your information, as long as natural rubber is reasonably priced, synthetic rubber will not replace it. Consequently, there will be continuing and growing demand. Cambodia is only a minor player in that market, and by its limited potential will always be.

Anonymous said...

Yes.
Not all 'barangs' are the same.
Some are wiser than others.
The first post pointed out about the fact in this case. It took more posts to convince KJE that he did not know what he was talking about.

Anonymous said...

Yes.
Not all 'barangs' are the same.
Some are wiser than others.
Berthelot said KJE blog is the best. Hopefully, he changes his mind after KJE confession about using wrong fact and conclusion.

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