Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Caved In

After one year of boycotting the assembly by not taking their seats, the opposition finally struck a deal with the governing party. What a deal it was! After demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, no less, the reform of the National Election Committee (NEC), new elections, etc., and after holding many demonstrations, trying to empower the youth of the country, they now finally settled for bread crumbs, all things considered. Of course, the reform of the NEC is a significant step, especially after both parties agreed on the ninth neutral member, the founder of Licadho, Mrs. Kek with impeccable credentials.

 Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the CPP once again won the power play by using a grave mistake by some of the opposition members as a pretext to have them arrested for incitement, among other violations. One can understand, though not condone, that the demonstrators were tired of being beaten up by hired thugs and finally fought back, giving them a good licking, some even suffering serious injuries. At last, the government had the leverage to use legal means to force them into giving up their hopeless boycott. Now is that the result the supporters of Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha, et al, were demonstrating for – after those opposition leaders had tacitly emboldened them to resort to violence in January, which resulted in several deaths? Most certainly not, I venture to say.

Having seven leading CNRP members in jail, though, brought Sam Rainsy to his knees and Mr. Hun Sen could once again gloat in his adversary’s face. There is this one picture of both men shaking hands after they announced that deal. Hun Sen clearly enjoys the moment demonstrating this with a firm handshake, whereas Sam Rainsy’s facial expression, often inscrutable, seemed to show how he detested the moment of his defeat, underlining it with an obvious limp handshake.

 He is trying to save some of his face by now demanding that all the details of the deal be in writing and signed before they will take their seats and be sworn in. Understandably, they want a change of the Assembly rules, which stipulate that the president has veto power over introducing legislation, which certainly is a very unusual rule. Once it passed the committee stage proposed legislation is debated in parliament and then voted up or down.

 Nevertheless, Sam Rainsy is overestimating his bargaining position. Even if that nonsensical rule is abolished, any legislation can still be voted down by the current majority. Frankly, no one sees any chance of opposition legislation being passed in the next 4 years. Whatever he does that does not meet the PM’s approval will be destined for failure. But being in the National Assembly will give their fight more legitimacy than all those fruitless demonstrations, which after all haven’t changed a thing. So get on with it already.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Very Special Species – The Cambodian Truck/Bus Driver

Driving along country roads or highways is always a white-knuckle experience. Not only do you have to live with Cambodian drivers that pass whether or not they have an unobstructed view ahead, but you also have the truck drivers that take special care to disregard any traffic regulation or law and common sense in moving their behemoths along Cambodia’s unsafe roads.

 I believe most container traffic moves between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville and vice versa. There are certain times when they either leave Phnom Penh (around 8 am) or Sihanoukville (around 11 am). If you need to go either way you best leave at around 6 am to go to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh. You won’t have a lot of truck traffic either way at that time. On weekends leaving at 4 pm is also a good option to avoid most of the trucks. But you still have the intercity buses to contend with. They usually travel at faster speeds but their unpredictable maneuvers will be much the same. Don’t go at speeds of more than 100 km/h, especially before a corner in the road. There might be an oncoming car being passed or worse a truck being passed by another truck. If there is no shoulder you are in real trouble. I have seen many accidents where the car tried to swerve and ended up in a ditch, sometimes alongside the truck that also tried to avoid the head-on collision.

One would think straight-aways are the safest stretches until you see a bus/truck veering out from behind a truck on one of those. They just flash their lights claiming your lane for themselves and expecting you to brake down to an almost standstill or get on the shoulder if there is one. I have been traveling back and forth on National Road #4 for many years and have seen countless accidents. Especially accident prone stretches in my experience are the downhill or uphill stretch after Pich Nil coming from or going to Sihanoukville. You can see vehicles going uphill sometimes passing in two three lanes now that the road has been repaved – all going uphill, mind you. Another special stretch is after Sre Ambel. There are a lot of straight-aways but also some slight curves. It is very tempting to go a little faster for once. Don’t! Think ahead – see what I said above.

Then there is the oil palm tree plantation – very dangerous with the tractors hauling those huge coconuts at 5 km/h. These are only a few of many more on National Road #4 and, of course, others. I drive almost daily along a rather small country road from Sihanoukville to Stung Hao – the road that passes the ferry terminal to Koh Rong and going along so-called Hun Sen Beach. There is a village about 2 to 3 km after the main port. They hold their daily market from about 8 am to 10 am. It also happens that there is another pier for vessels unloading cement from Thailand and China located in that village. The entrance to that pier is right at the beginning of that market. Sometimes this narrow road is made even narrower by a vegetable refuse pile, not to mention the many motodups who park their bikes with the front wheel sticking into the road. Don’t think they have it in their mind to move an inch to make passage for the truck or any following cars easier. And don’t think that a policeman would be there to direct traffic. The station is about 50 m from that spot. That would make life too easy for everybody, now wouldn’t it?.Here is the spot:

 Now those fully laden trucks can’t go fast. But wait until you meet an empty one. They barrel along at least at 50 to 60 km/h through the second village after that one. Never mind there are little kids playing on the side of the road. And never mind that there is a school between these two villages that sort of blend into each other anyway. Cambodians in vehicles or on motorbikes always seem to be in a hurry. Passing is a national pastime. They do it with abandon. But the state of mind of Cambodian truck drivers is most apparent at the entrance to the port. At certain times of the week, I haven’t quite figured out the schedule, they line up before the entrance waiting for the gate to open; at least that’s what I think. Now this is what it looks like.

Need I say more? They block the main road, the access road, and the exit from the port. There are countless trucks, at least a hundred. They just park willy-nilly, get out of their cab with a bunch of papers for pre-clearance or whatever and just leave their truck for however long it takes with their paperwork. It obviously is each driver’s foremost aim to occupy each available space where his truck would fit. Leaving room for cars to pass through has never occurred to any of them. Why should they, with all lanes blocked in both directions anyway? Again, a policeman is nowhere to be seen. Sometimes a port guard tries to direct the trucks; mostly to no avail. Just yesterday on my way home I saw a truck jack-knifed – the cab in the roadside ditch pointing uphill, the trailer sitting sideways on the road blocking it except for the shoulder where we could pass through. That road to Stund Hao has a few sharp corners located at the bottom of a couple of hills. The trucks, both laden and empty, race down these hills at speeds of up to 90 km/h. Then they fly into that corner not thinking that their trailer might push off the road by the centrifugal force. This is exactly what happened to that truck we saw yesterday. Tela gasoline trucks look they are in pretty good condition – they travel this road all the time from the their depot. And they always go at pretty fast speeds. I am amazed that I haven’t seen one involved in an accident. The other tractor trailer trucks, however, are the greatest risk both to themselves and to the other vehicles on the road. Sometimes the trailer does faulty or no brakes. So if the driver goes into that corner too fast and starts to brake, the trailer will invariably veer off. Now if this happens with the road turning right that trailer will push into the oncoming lane – one can only hope that there is no other vehicle in that lane. Here some of those spots.