Saturday, December 26, 2009

Success Stories

Quite a few Westerners live in Cambodia. I am always amazed that comparatively many foreigners chose to come to Cambodia and work here. Of course, a good number works for NGOs, embassies, and the few large multi-national corporations operating in Cambodia. Another surprising feature is the number of bars owned and operated by foreigners in Phnom Penh; unfortunately, many of them cater to the prowling sex visitor. Normally one finds those bars in resort towns, so Sihanoukville and Siem Reap are no exception there, but then Phnom Penh is the capital where all foreigners usually arrive first. English being the language of choice these days in Cambodia, like everywhere else, English-language teachers also abound here.

However, there is a small group of foreigners in the small-business sector that discovered a niche in the hospitality business and worked their ideas into a huge success. I am talking about the group that owns and operates three boutique hotels in Phnom Penh. As it happens, they are in business with my Khmer friend and business partner. The whole thing started with one Frenchman, let’s call him Jean, opening the Mekong River Cruise company in Phnom Penh in 2002. First, he had worked for a Cambodian tour operator together with my Khmer friend. Then a French tour operator approached him with the idea of operating the first Mekong Cruise ship. So he left to work for the tour operator and started the Compagnie Fluviale du Mekong. Since it’s always hard for a Westerner to do business in Cambodia without any Khmer help he asked my friend to come and work with him.

They converted a traditional Khmer riverboat into a luxury vessel with five air-conditioned cabins, replete with bar and restaurant, that was to sail from Tonle Sap to Saigon. At the time I was skeptical. As it turned out my skepticism was well justified, as then the huge tsunami hitting Thailand brought an abrupt halt to tourism to the region. My friend left the company to seek work elsewhere; Jean stuck it out but didn’t receive pay from the mother company. He got shares instead. Before coming to Cambodia Jean had spent most of his time in Russia due to his father’s job. From that time he knew a couple of other expats there who were looking to go someplace else. Jean sort of liked it in Cambodia and described it as an easy place to live for French people. In short order two other French guys, Claude and Pierre (all names changed), followed from Russia to see for themselves.

They putzed around for a while looking for a worthwhile business. In the meantime, the Mekong cruise became successful after the effects of the tsunami had worn off. Additionally, people booking such a tour are different from the usual package tourists in Thailand. So they thought prospects for a small hotel were not too bad. They just didn’t have enough money for it.

Claude had bought some land in Kep hoping to use it for farming. But just at that time, the real estate boom was taking shape, and he decided to sell the land. He made a nice profit, which he now used to open his first boutique hotel, the Pavilion. The business model is practically very simple. He rented a French-colonial villa, which was somewhat in disrepair. He contracted with the owner for a ten-year lease. He would renovate it into a small guesthouse with originally 10 rooms (which was eventually extended to 14 rooms through the addition of another nearby villa), a lush tropical garden with swimming pool and small bar/restaurant. He would pay rent but keep all the proceeds from the hotel. (Pictures of the property can be viewed at their website at http://www.thepavilion.asia/). Another boutique hotel followed quickly, the Kabiki. While the Pavilion caters to Western couples in their twenties to forties, the Kabiki is geared towards families. They are both similarly furnished, a mixed modern Khmer/Western style. What’s most appealing to guests from all over the world is their well-landscaped tropical garden right in the middle of Phnom Penh – like a serene island. Another big plus for them was their location. They are a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace and the riverfront. These two hotels became such a smashing success, that they decided to open one more, the Blue Lime (http://www.bluelime.asia/). First I wondered at the name Why ‘Blue Lime’? The ‘blue’ only serves to set it apart and catch people’s attention who might otherwise not notice the name. This way it certainly stands out. They followed the same business model. Renting, long-term lease, renovating, premium location, tropical garden, swimming pool. All three have free wi-fi internet access. The special feature of the Blue Lime, however, is their concrete furniture, which to some might seem ultra-modern and too cool, but it also became an instant success.

Many tried to imitate and replicate their style, but no one with as much success as these three guys. Additionally, the driving force among the three, Claude, opened a very popular restaurant, the ‘Elsewhere’. And just recently, he added another restaurant in front of the port, the Chinese House, which is mostly used for functions and special events. They recently hosted a Cambodian film festival there. When visiting Phnom Penh, try not to miss this. It is worth seeing for its traditional Chinese style alone.

This enterprising relatively young man, he is in his early forties, is also planning an eco-resort on Koh Rong island, and an eco-swimming hotel in Phnom Penh. The pavilion website has links to all these. Overall, their endeavors, efforts, and entrepreneurship are amazing and admirable. They came here with little money, parleyed it into a little more, but rather than take it back home, they re-invested it in Cambodia, creating jobs for about 150 people (and they pay well above average wages, which makes all their employees very happy), and helped re-build a beautiful part of Phnom Penh.

Now what became of Jean, the first Frenchman who lured the other two to Cambodia? He left the Mekong Cruise company once it was up and running, starting to make money. He cashed out his shares with the French tour operator and opened a boutique hotel or guesthouse in Battambang. This hotel was just as successful as the Phnom Penh properties (http://www.lavilla-battambang.com/). The only problem Jean had with it was that he felt kind of lonely out in the provinces, missing his friends and the busy life in Phnom Penh. He finally sold it about 15 months ago to another Frenchman. But what did he do with the proceeds? He is opening another small hotel in the province – this time in Stung Treng; also an old French colonial building, again following this very successful business model.

Now there are many boutique hotels in Phnom Penh, but none can beat the three owned by this group. Mostly they are more expensive (Le Quay, the Bourgainvillier), or they don’t have the same standard. The French group’s hotels charge anywhere from $40 to $75 a room, which keeps the riff-raff out but still attracts normal, mostly European, guests who really have been getting a bargain with their strong Euro. During the slump in tourist arrivals, theirs were the only hotels in Phnom Penh that still ran at an average occupancy rate of 90%. Try to book a room and you will find out how popular those hotels are.

All three posted a sign, ‘Sex Tourists Not Welcome’, which elevates them from almost all other similar-priced hotels and certainly raises them above the level of all those cheap flophouses. They do not allow their guests to have female company stay in their room. Some people complained that they discriminate against Khmer women, which is, of course, complete nonsense. If a guest makes a reservation for two people, and the female companion is Khmer or of another Asian background and they have an ID-card or passport, they can stay at their hotels without any problem. What they don’t want is those single male travelers who come to Cambodia for just one purpose.

They once opened their properties (swimming pools) to the local expat community. Soon they were overwhelmed with pool visitors, which brought in a good dollar at the bar, but the guests started complaining. Now they started charging $5; the guests are among themselves again.

There is a similar success story in the hotel business – this time one of the few overseas Khmer who returned and turned his efforts into an admirable enterprise – Loo Meng who opened the Amanjaya, the Almond, and the Anise hotels, and one of the best restaurants in Phnom Penh, the Malis (or Melis, which is Khmer for Jasmine).

Monday, December 21, 2009

To Grant or Not to Grant Asylum

That is the question (to paraphrase Shakespeare). On the surface it would appear that Cambodia again tarnished its international image and standing by sending back the 20 or so Uighurs. Of course, all human rights organizations, the UN, the U. S. administration, and whoever else felt sufficiently outraged, protested vehemently against the repatriation of the Uighur refugees. It is also clear that this step by the Cambodian government is not so hard to understand in the face of China’s Vice Premier Xi’s visit to Cambodia. After all, China is the single most significant donor for Cambodia. In comparison both Japan’s and Korea’s aid pales.

Nevertheless, one could argue that the return of the refugees could at least have been postponed until after a first hearing on the merits of their status, and personally, I do believe that would have been the right way to follow. However, realpolitik doesn’t follow human rights principles, as can be seen throughout the world, not only in developing countries but especially in the industrialized world, which is still struggling to come out of a deep recession. Economic interests have traditionally defeated human rights interests.

President Obama’s visit to China did not touch on the sensitive subject of human rights in China at all. With China being the largest U. S. T-bill holder, such an argument would be hard to make, now wouldn’t it? Therefore, it is hardly surprising that small Cambodia could not withstand China’s pressure either; and it got slammed for it from all sides. The spokesman for the U. S. State Department even said this would affect their future aid and their relationship with Cambodia. Whom is he trying to kid? We all know this is for public consumption. Nothing will change.

There are some bloggers who even say why blast Cambodia and not China? Here is an interesting post I found on the subject.

Quote
Anonymous said...
I am a US citizen, I live in the US, but I disagree with the US government on this point. These people enter Cambodia illegally, and thus it is lawfully to return them back to the country of origin. Even the US return thousands of Mexican who illegally enter the US.

Another question is, why are these people came all the way from China and stay in Cambodia. Why don't they stop in Vietnam, Lao, Thailand or even go to Muslim country like Malaysia or Indonesia, why stop in Cambodia!
So now Cambodia is to blame for this. This is unfair.

Why don't the US protest with China, why blame Cambodia. May be the US dare not challenge China because they are borrowing billions from China!!

As for refugee treaty, what treaty!?

When Thai dump Cambodian refugee into mine field at Phnom Dangrek, where are the International, where the UN, and the Human right group?!

Thousands of Cambodian refugees were massacred, machine gun by Thai soliders, thousands more died in mine field, and thousand more die of starvation in Phnom Dangrek. So one come to help us, none.

Later UN estimate 30,000 Cambodian refugee died at Phnom Dangrek alone, and that not counting Thai Shelling Cambodian refugee camps a long the border, Thai rape and murder thousands more who try to enter Khao I Dang camp.
Unquote

The question posed by this poster has some validity. It is not only he who is wondering why those Uighurs came to Cambodia; a country that must be known even in their remote province for not having the most stellar human rights record. What comes to mind in terms of an explanation is that there used to be and probably still are a good number of illegal Chinese immigrants in Cambodia. Word might have reached Xinjiang province that Cambodia is an easy country to get into and to stay. The mistake they probably made is to contact the UNHCR office and ask them to prepare their application for asylum. Maybe they should have followed the example of their fellow countrymen and just tried to blend in with the pretty large Chinese community, or maybe they should have tried to get to Thailand. I wonder how that country would have dealt with them. But, of course, as Muslims they would probably have stood out and raised questions from the local authorities. Any way you look at it, this was an ill-conceived adventure.

The Chinese government branded them criminals. They were refugees from the ethnic riots in that province. A riot is an offense in any country, regardless of who provoked it. Frankly, I have no idea whether this would put them under the protection of the Convention.

The Convention states:

Article 1

DEFINITION OF THE TERM "REFUGEE"
A. For the purposes of the present Convention, the term "refugee" shall apply
to any person who :

(1) Has been considered a refugee under the Arrangements of 12 May 1926 ! and 30 June 1928 or under the Conventions of 28 October 1933 and 10 February 1938, the Protocol of 14 September 1939 or the Constitution of the Internationa] Refugee Organization ;

Decisions of non-eligibility taken by the International Refugee Organ ization during the period of its activities shall not prevent the status of refugee being accorded to persons who fulfil the conditions of paragraph 2 of this section ;

(2) As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nation ality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country ; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it……………………

AND

F. The provisions of this Convention shall not apply to any person with respect
to whom there are serious reasons for considering that :
(a) he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against
humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to
make provision in respect of such crimes ;
(b) he has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of
refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee ;
(c) he has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the
United Nations



The foregoing is probably the reason the U. S. stated that Cambodia ‘appears’ to have violated its obligations under the Convention. Well, those people might have committed crimes against peace as the article states. Yes, I know, surely not the babies, but their parents must have felt a need to flee from the Chinese authorities, and yes, I also know the Uighurs are a persecuted minority.

Nobody rushing to judgment on this knows the exact background of this whole story. I would also like to remind people in this context that 6 Uighurs were kept in Guantanamo for over 7 years although they were cleared of all charges. They were finally released this year and now reside in Palau. How is that for adherence to the principles of human rights? Who was that talking about the Convention, Janus?

When I first read about this, it was clear right away in my mind that the Uighurs would be returned. This is unfortunate, and we all would have wished for a different handling of the matter, and the Cambodian government could have for once basked in the applause from its harshest critics. However, the consequence would have been a serious disruption in their relationship with China. Therefore, the decision was a foregone conclusion. No matter how many people cry foul, this is what our world is like – materialism reigns. Sad but true.

Friday, December 18, 2009

‘Tender Signs of Recovery?’

At the end of October I reported on the situation of the the real estate market as I personally see it. This year we saw a longer than normal rainy season, which aggravated the sales of properties even more. Traditionally, as we all know, sales start to pick up with the beginning of the dry season.

Although I am personally involved in Phnom Penh Thmey, as readers have probably guessed by now, I am also familiar with the situation in a number of provinces, e. g. Rattanakiri, Kratie, Kompong Cham, Kandal, Sihanouk, due my business activities or property ownership there.

Just last week I took a trip up to Rattanakiri province where I and two Khmer friends of mine started another rubber plantation last year. I was really surprised to find out that prices for prime agricultural land have risen already by about 10%. There is a lot of activity there starting new plantations. One hectare goes for around $2,200 - $2,400.


This is the ideal soil for rubber trees

All those are privately owned. Plantation owners from Kompong Cham province now expand into Rarranakiri province for lack of suitable land in Kg. Cham. But not only is there activity in the agricultural sector but also in the private housing sector. I saw quite a few new houses, villas mostly, in Ban Long being started. The airport is being rebuilt so flights can resume around the middle of next year. Recently one friend of mine sold land along road no. 78 on the outskirts of Ban Long for around $43,000/ha. How’s that for recession pricing?

The Chinese are busy building the new road no. 78 to Ban Long from the junction of road no. 7 to Stung Treng. They will use only part of the old road and follow a different way as the current bridge over the Srepok river will be converted into a dam for irrigation purposes, not for a hydroelectric power plant. That new road will be finished in 2012. I think that’s pretty good for 120 km of road. Unfortunately, I saw only Chinese engineers and truck and bulldozer drivers. The reason for that is that the previous Khmer contractor who built road no. 7 from Katie to the junction did such a shoddy job that the Chinese elected to bring in their own staff. But nevertheless, overall, this is very good for Rattanakiri province which was sort of cut off from more rapid development due to its remoteness. Hopefully, all those nature lovers won’t have to worry about the abundance of wildlife and untouched forests there and will still be able to visit pristine land for years to come.

In Kratie province, which of course is famous for its Irrawaddy dolphins near the village of Sombok, I could also find new construction of houses all over the place. Most encouraging of all is the rebuilding of road no. 308 from Chloung to Kratie town. Only 17 km of dirt road is left to be paved, and this is expected to be done by April. Using that route will cut about 80 km off your trip from Kompong Cham to Kratie.

The most amazing and in my eyes ugliest construction I have seen in a long time is being completed in Chrouy Chanvar, Kandal Province. This is supposedly for a private university. I wasn’t able to find out who is building it. That is one ugly eyesore.


Here it is from the Japanese bridge


In all its splendor


Up close

Other than that, if you saw this region 5 years ago and now, you wouldn’t recognize it. What once were fields and forests is now full of houses; I would call it semi-developed. Gone are the nice villages in the middle of the forest, gone is for the most part free access to the Mekong riverbank. But I guess that is the price of development. We have seen this everywhere, not only in Cambodia.





Some of the more unsightly sides of Chrouy Chanvar

Before I turn to Phnom Penh a brief look at Sihanoukville. There too it is mostly private housing going up. I couldn’t spot one larger project in the works. Those still seem to be on hold. Even the new private port in Stung Hao is not showing any progress. But the new oil/gasoline depot there near Phum One was completed in no time. I think it took no more than 6 months to build a jetty complete with pipeline and tanks – really amazing. Of course, here too, some beautiful piece of coastline was destroyed. I had once planned to buy one hectare of beach land across the bay. Ke Kim Yan beat me to it, while I was still trying to line up investors for an idyllic hotel resort. Needless to say, I am now glad that those plans fell through. Who wants to look at a gasoline depot in the sunset. This is also the problem with beautiful Hun Sen Beach. Those damn Sokimex and Tela depots spoil that beach and only people with a wish for certain failure would build a resort there.

Now Phnom Penh is also showing signs of renascent activity, but also mostly in the private sector, as far as I can see. People are busy building or renovating their houses, but no larger project has been begun or even continued. Famous Camko City is on hold. From what I heard the majority of the villas have been sold, but work on the towers remains idle. My Korean source tells me that Camko Engineering Ltd., or whatever their company name is, have internal problems, not only financial but on how to proceed. Grand Phnom Penh International stopped further construction altogether for lack of buyers. Although they are now landscaping the development, it still looks somewhat unfinished. That grandiose gate was a bad omen. Sometimes high-flying dreams come crashing down overnight. Maybe they should take down those horses as a first step towards a newfound modesty. Rumor has it that Hun Sen’s daughter bought into the Sky42 Golden Tower. Work there is continuing, albeit at a slower pace.


The Canadia Tower as seen from Chrouy Changvar


The first New World development was built in Toul Sanke near Camko City. I am looking for a townhouse for my kids and sort of stumbled upon that development. It is a very nice community complete with small shops; it’s gated and perhaps half the houses are inhabited. I saw a lot of for sale signs, though, which erroneously led me to believe they might come down with their prices. No dice. They are still asking from $90,000 to $125,000 for an Eo/E1 with a terrace on top. Mind you, these are town houses. In the other two New World developments, you can get a duplex for that kind of money. Well, some people are still dreaming.


Gate to a development in Toul Sanke. It's all a question of personal preference, isn't it?

That the market is finally finding its right level is, in my mind, demonstrated by a recent experience, also in the search for a home for my kids. The latest New World development is next to the Wat Samrong Andaet in Phnom Penh Themy. I was interested in a duplex there and had negotiated the price down to $90,000. The owner had two for sale; I also saw a couple of others on the same street. I was holding off, hoping to get the price down to somewhere near $80,000. So I waited a month. Now I had to find out that all these units have been sold. Originally, they all wanted somewhere in the vicinity of $110,000. I knew the developer pre-sold them for $85,000 two years ago. To me this is a sign that the market found its right level.

Another example is the development I am passively involved in. Prices for a townhouse there were $45,000 for an Eo before the recession. We went to $40,000, then to 38,000, to $35,000, 34,900, etc. There was never a lack of inquiries throughout the last year, but no sales. Now we are selling for $32,000 and we’re in business again. All our buyers are private people who buy it for their own use. There are even some overseas Khmer among them who retire and come back to Cambodia to live here.

Comparing this to the vast number of townhouse near the airport and in Chom Chao, which typically sell for $28,000, we can see that a purely residential area like Phnom Penh Thmey has a slight edge over those mass developments.

I am also showing pictures of lots that were untouched only as recently as October but now work has begun there. As can be seen, most of the land is now dry and what a difference that makes. Additionally, Hanoi Road is once more being repaved and widened; this all helps the market, or in other words, the government is in effect doing something to help the economy get out of the recession.




Click on the picture to enlarge. This is development with terms. Email me for the phone number. I am not involved in this.









If you check back to my October post you can see this lot completely under water

So is all this a tender sign of recovery? I believe it is. Private people have money to build homes for themselves; contractors have work again, laborers have work; the cycle has been re-started. It sure is not humming along yet, but it is slowly cranking up.But then I am that eternal optimist, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that 1.5% drop in GDP in 2010 as predicted by the ADB, will turn out to be a modest increase in the range of 2 – 3%. Tourism is up again in October, November, and most certainly in December. So the worst is over in my mind, but just as elsewhere the dire times for the majority of people are far from over.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Now They Got Me Too

Maintaining two residences usually involves a bit of traveling and the use of credit cards. Much has been written about identity theft, but who would think this would one day affect yourself, especially since I am super-careful with my online transactions. But it finally caught up with me too. Somebody stole my credit card number and made purchases with or sold it to somebody who did.

Thank goodness, my credit card company found one transaction suspicious and called me to ask about it. Somebody was charging $600 at some retail shop in Germany. I was in the U. S. at the time. Checking my credit card account I found another transaction that wasn’t made by me. This was an online purchase of clothes for about $500. The charge in Germany was denied, and the online charge was returned to the store, as is possible under the terms and conditions between the bank and the merchant. So I got lucky and suffered no losses because the bank’s monitoring system picked it up quickly. I have a pretty high credit limit and I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t caught on to it so quickly.

The question arising from this now is how did somebody else get ahold of my number, plus expiration date, plus CCV? I normally don’t use my credit card except for travel expenses, e. g. airline tickets, hotels, etc., and I have only one credit card. So I was wondering where could it have happened. I traced my charges and could only find two transactions where somebody could have gotten the number. One was a hotel in Phnom Penh, where I paid the bill for a (trustworthy) friend of mine, and one was at the Taipeh airport where I made a telephone call.

So my suspicion is that somebody at the hotel sold the number to people who are in that kind of business, or somebody monitored the public phones at the Taipeh airport to glean the number that way. You have to type it in. So it’s very easy to see this with a pair of binoculars, or since those are too conspicuous, with a camera zoomed to the phone.

Now I don’t want to sound racist but everybody heard of the Nigerian scam spread by emails, which involves a letter from some high official or his/her relative who overcharged a contract and needs to get this money out of Nigeria or some other West African country. This usually is in the millions of dollars and they promise a cut of anywhere from 10 to 25%. It seems Nigerians are very crafty in all kinds of scams. I have noticed a sharp increase of Africans, and these are mostly West Africans, in Phnom Penh. So is there a connection between those Africans and the scams perpetrated from Cambodia? I heard from other people they do everything from pushing drugs to phone scams. That Swedish guy who got murdered and left by the roadside is another case in point. He met a Khmer lady online who turned out to be African. She and her boyfriend managed to relieve the Swede of his savings of about $50,000, which the fool carried with him in cash, or so the reports go, and subsequently killed him. At the beginning of December an African gang was arrested and 21,000 credit card data were found on their computer, probably mine among them. My fraudulent transactions occurred on Nov. 21 and Dec. 02. So how do those guys get the data? Do they hack into computers and monitor the credit authorizations, or do they simply bribe underpaid staff at hotels, restaurants, etc. to copy the data. I heard they pay about $5 - $10 per card. I am wondering whether all those Africans are involved in some kind of criminal activity; or what are they doing in Cambodia to begin with? I know there is the odd soccer player around and you have a number of embassy staff. But a couple of years ago you didn’t see this many African people on the streets here.

Whatever the case may be, you can’t be too careful.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Khmer Voice

Although this article is also somewhat dated it describes very aptly the reality on the ground, which still applies today. I take the liberty of re-publishing it here for my audience.

Read the whole post at timothychhim.blogspot.com

While Madame Mu SocHua is coming to the U.S. to seek support and sympathy from Cambodians overseas and the international community, the Cambodian court wants her in Phnom Penh for questioning.

While Mme. Mu SocHua is telling the court that she is coming to the U.S. for medical reasons, SRP supporters are busily scheduling her to many different places for political meetings.

Will all of this help build her case in Cambodian court? Many Cambodians are scratching their heads and wondering how many Cambodians can fly to the U.S. for medical treatments if they are wanted by the “bias” court?

Mme. Mu SocHua’s activities, although legitimate, are not in SRP’s favor through the eyes of the Cambodian court. She is giving the CPP more leverage, which it will use to highlight her confrontational actions to justify its case. The CPP has been criticizing all Cambodian politicians overseas as seasonable politicians—politicians who have little interest in serving Cambodians at the grassroots.

While a few hundred SRP members who came to support Mme. Mu SocHua during her trial are subject to direct intimidation, Mme. Mu SocHua has left Cambodia for her own well-being. This is the real issue facing overseas Khmer politicians (anekachun) who are increasingly viewed by many Cambodian voters as the “Paing- Proch” politicians.

While some overseas Cambodians are exciting about Mme. Mu Sochua’s drastic actions against Premier Hun Sen, the reality is different. The majority of Cambodians in Cambodia see it in their own way. Many people, including SRP members, are palling around normally with CPP’s leaders at all levels. The ones with more money earn more respects. The ones who control the media draw more supports. The ones with the political power draw business and political attentions from business and political leaders of the world.

Human Rights Groups and NGOs have been good thus far to voice their opinion to support Mme. Mu SocHua. However, without concrete actions by the world’s most powerful nations to reprimand Hun Sen’s administration, Hun Sen will continue to do what he usually does until the end of his time. Hun Sen’s government continues to represent Cambodia legitimately accompanied by SRP as the main opposition. Business entities continue to invest in Cambodia. Ho Nam Hong gets to see world’s leaders including Hillary Clinton.

This may drive all of Hun Sen’s opponents crazy, but it is the reality. What one should recognize, too, is that when all of this commotion is over, politicians will continue to be politicians. Although they may make you think and feel that they care more about the Cambodian people, most of them, in fact, only care more about themselves.

And one more


In Cambodia, when personal cases become publicized and politicized, no lawyer will come forward to take the case including lawyers in the SRP.

Omnipotent power of Premier Hun Sen is enough for most (if not all) lawyers to retreat. Social and political pressures are enormous for both individuals—Mme Mu and Premier Hun. Even if Premier Hun Sen is sincere and tell the court to be fair, the court itself will not have the guts to rule against the Prime Minister. It is not going to happen easily anywhere in Asiatic society, especially in Cambodia where fear and respect go together for the head of the government.

The best thing to deal with every critical issue is for SRP to clearly think collectively in advance what kind of course of actions it should take in order to get better results for Cambodians and for Cambodia. Is a lawsuit against the Premier the best way to solve Cambodian social issues or will it trigger him to react?

The case of Madame Mu has produced great excitement for SRP’s supporters as well as for some NGOs and international organizations; however after the excitement is over, no concrete change will really take place. The CPP have been quietly watching the strength of its opponents and take good notes.

As we expected, the international community will continue to support the government of Cambodia via many programs requested by the Hun Sen’s regime. The support for the opposition, on the other hand, will be under pressure and weakening. Although some diehard opposition members would like to stick to their confrontational approaches to stir up Cambodian’s emotions to support their cause, more and more Cambodians are tired of that.

It is unfortunate that the majority of Cambodian people do not mind (some do not even think about) how Premier Hun Sen act, speak or run the government for they are too busy to make a living. Such a nonchalant manner is probably resulting from the way they are looking down on most Cambodian politicians.
In their mind Cambodian politicians are “all the same.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

How is That for Compassion?

This post is especially dedicated to my many detractors in a certain segment of the overseas Khmer community.

This is a story about staunch SRP-followers who, as it happens, are also part of Sam Rainsy’s in-law family. It appears that Sam Rainsy’s wife and Mu Sochua are cousins, of whatever degree. According to another relative of the family, they also have another cousin living in the U. S. The latter and her husband were firm supporters of Sam Rainsy and his party. This sort of would go without saying, wouldn’t it? Eventually, the husband, however, found that Sam Rainsy does not serve the purpose of unseating the Hun Sen government very well and stopped giving donations. He thought it was money wasted. Why? Well, we don’t know but listening to SR’s unconstructive pronouncements, we can only surmise.

The wife having her own business continued supporting her cousin’s party. Nothing wrong with that really. Now apparently the relationship between the wife and her husband became a little strained. It is not known whether the disagreement about their brother-in-law and his politics is the reason or because the husband wanted to help his poor relative and actually gave her money to buy a Cambodian flat (town house). We are talking about roughly $45,000. He also wanted to buy his relative’s daughter a motorbike and new clothes, and possibly set her up in her own apartment. It smacks a bit of ‘srey tha tha’, right? Now the wife became suspicious as the writing on the wall cried out, ‘Infidelity’. After all, it is not completely unheard of that some older men are smitten with younger women, whether she is a grandniece or not. On one of her visits to Cambodia the wife confronted the relative and asked that she sell the house and return the money, which the relative at first refused. It was a gift from the husband, her uncle (blood-relative), what is she – the wife - thinking? How dare she ask the money back, the relative thought. They give plenty of money to the party, but when it comes to helping poor relatives with five children back in Cambodia, all of a sudden their generosity abruptly ends, she said. In the end she did sell her house, though. Normal people are just scared of people with money or with good connections. You never know what they might come up with next. So she paid back the money. She made a small profit on the sale and borrowed money from someone else to get a new place for herself and her children.

Nice folks – and pretty normal too, right? Yeah, but for those people who stand for helping the poor, it would appear a wee bit odd, now wouldn’t it?

Disclaimer: As recounted by my source.

An Analysis Right On Point

I am quoting, and nothing needs to be added. This is the reality. But does it reach the relevant people?

Friday, 04 December 2009
Sebastian Strangio
The Phnom Penh Post

After a tumultuous year, the Sam Rainsy Party finds itself at a crossroads, but observers are divided on its future prospects in a shifting political climate.

STRIPPED of his parliamentary immunity for the second time this year, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has, once again, found himself at the centre of the debate over Cambodia’s democratic reform. But the lifting of his parliamentary immunity and the actions that led to it – the uprooting of several wooden border markers in a rice field at the Vietnamese border – have raised questions of another kind, about the relevance of Sam Rainsy and his eponymous party in a shifting political landscape.

Though the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) remains the Kingdom’s biggest proponent of Western-style democracy, some observers fear that the party, and its president, have reached the outer limits of their influence and have turned away from the grassroots campaigning that marked the SRP’s heyday in favour of politically charged but somewhat hollow political gestures.

This has been a tumultuous year for the SRP. Sam Rainsy and SRP lawmakers Mu Sochua and Ho Vann have each lost parliamentary immunity at one point or another in tense legal tussles with senior government officials.

Despite the international media coverage of its recent theatrics, and attention in the chambers of the US congress and the European parliament in Brussels, it is unclear whether the opposition’s strategies have maximised its chances of leveraging demographic changes into long-term political gains.

Some observers say the party has declined since its peak in the mid-2000s, a trend illustrated by its failure to capture the tens of thousands of Funcinpec voters who withdrew their support from the party after the royalist split in 2006.

“All those votes should have gone to the SRP, and they didn’t,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. He said the SRP’s lack of a concrete policy platform causes its political spats with the government to become quickly personalised and drags the party into unwinnable battles with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). “There’s no proper analysis or real policy,” he added. “If you’re going to oppose something, are you in a position to offer anything that’s different?”
"If it was a one-man show, the show would have stopped a long time ago, given all the problems we've been facing."
Another observer, who declined to be named, said that despite having won the SRP international attention, the recent strategy of waging legal battles with government officials had “steered the party way off message”.

“They talk about party leaders being persecuted on the basis of esoteric rights that many Cambodian people have very little ownership of. They’ve adapted to appeal to outside constituencies rather than Cambodian voters,” he said, describing the loss of the Funcinpec vote as a “huge missed opportunity”.

Sorpong Peou, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, said that as the country’s main opposition leader, Sam Rainsy must maintain a degree of assertiveness, but that appeals to distant international organisations have achieved little for the party.

“At the end of the day, the opposition is at the mercy of the CPP, which is willing to allow a degree of opposition in order to legitimise its domination and uses this type of legitimacy to gain international support,” she said. “In this sense, the opposition’s appeals have little real impact on domestic politics.”

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