Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Absentia

This saga has taken another unsavory turn with Sam Rainsy being sentenced to two years in prison for racial incitement and destruction of public property. The neutral observer can only shake his/her head in bewilderment as to the extremes this case has escalated into.

Just last week the SRP published material showing that those border markers were indeed on Cambodian territory, or as the SRP calls it, it was Vietnamese encroachment on Cambodian territory. The maps shown seem to be genuine and the border delineation appears to be in accordance with the relevant bilateral treaties.

As I wrote here before, removing the border markers, wrongly placed or not, was a bad judgment on Sam Rainsy’s part. However, as this was Sam Rainsy, the authorities acted with speed and full force. What else could he expect? The charges were absolutely blown out of proportion by any international standard, as is now the court’s judgment. Those wooden border markers, even if they were state property, were worth a few dollars at best. The destruction of public property is a laughable charge. But that’s not what was at stake here. Sam Rainsy handed his opponents the weapons with which to defeat him; and they indulged him. Basically, he only got what he asked for.

Racial incitement is a serious charge, though. Judging by SR’s past remarks on Vietnam and the Vietnamese immigrants and settlers in Cambodia, one could at minimum read a deep resentment into them. Were they also discriminatory? In my mind, yes. But were the comments or his actions in Svay Rieng racial incitement? The way I understand it inciting other people to discriminate against a certain ethnic group or race would constitute such an act. In this day and age, it is widely condemned by everybody but die-hard racists. History has shown us the outcome of racial and ethnic discrimination - slavery, tribal wars, and the holocaust. We know it leads to misery, mental anguish, and even catastrophe.

Politicians playing the ‘ethnic’ card seldom gain wide popularity over the long run. Ultra-nationalists, and that is what they mostly are, remain a fringe group in the West, and I would believe, in Asia as well. That Sam Rainsy chose this anti-Vietnamese stance as part of his platform put him in the very nationalistic corner. This offended the Vietnamese government and since they are an important trading partner, by extension, the Cambodian government as well.

But does the charge also include abetting people to use violence against such groups or race? Probably, but I don’t think this can be leveled at Sam Rainsy. What Sam Rainsy could have been accused of in the past is making racially discriminating public comments. So is two years in prison justified for an offense like this? Hardly; additionally he is a professional politician and these people make much more inflammatory remarks in other parts of the world. In the end, what remains is, sadly, a miscarriage of justice. And it appears as though this is far from over now that this whole affair has turned into a dispute over border issues in general. Sam Rainsy announced he would publish new indisputable evidence of Vietnamese encroachment. (I guess he does this in his own name in order to protect his party.) This only serves to anger the government even more and makes them dig in their heels harder. Their response may rationally not be understandable but it will probably be just as harsh as the provincial court’s judgment.

But logically, this latest round begs a number of questions: ‘Why was this evidence not used in a legitimate manner before this foolish actionism in Svay Rieng? Why is this coming to light now? Did the SRP ever submit this material to the National Assembly? Did they ever submit it to the Foreign Ministry and/or the Border Committee? Wouldn’t it have been just as effective if they had published this on their website and used the media to propagate it, as is happening now?’

Since Sam Rainsy was mostly playing to an international audience and the Khmer Diaspora, as one observer put it, one must wonder whether this overplaying of his hand was worth all the sacrifice. After all, the international community pays only lip service to begin with, and the politically active Khmer Diaspora can’t sway things one way or the other in Cambodia anyway.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Recent News

Prime Minister Hun Sen gave a speech recently in which he mused about his longevity on the job. He thought he could probably not serve until he is 80 due to health reasons. That stands to reason as most people, especially the ones who have a stressful job, tend so suffer from one illness or other in their 60ies and 70ies. Hun Sen most likely won’t be any exception. What’s remarkable, though, is why he was talking about it at this point in time. There was no apparent reason unless you want to attribute it to a whim, a spur of the moment remark.

Another interpretation making the rounds is that he just wanted to remind everybody again that he has managed to stay on the job despite the vociferous condemnations by the human rights organizations, and most of all, by his arch-nemesis, Sam Rainsy. Perhaps, what he was indicating was that with Sam Rainsy now out of the way for good, he can go about his job without being disturbed every step of way.

The UN Human Rights Rappateur for Cambodia Subedi is visiting and had a constructive discussion with the Prime Minister. What is noteworthy here is, first, that he was received to begin with, and second, that obviously the meeting was held without pre-conceived notions. Both mentioned that the meeting went well, which, hopefully, is an indication that at least the acrimony seems to have been avoided for now. We will see what comes out of the meeting with the opposition parties next week.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What You Can Do I Can Do…..

The opposition accuses the government and the CPP of meddling in the judicial system, in fact, subverting it.

Now the SRP has launched a drive to petition the King to interfere with the judicial system. They are collecting signatures for that petition asking the King to have the court drop the charges against Sam Rainsy. What? Now they are using the same methods?

Meanwhile, a government adviser in turn accuses the SRP of forcing villagers to sign the petition.

There was once a TV-series in the U. S. called Brotherhood dealing with the corrupt legislature in Rhode Island. Somehow this whole episode with the border markers reminds me of that series.

If it weren’t so real and serious, one would have to laugh at this. Maybe at one point this will be the stuff for a Cambodian TV real life drama.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Methods of the Enemy

Today I received the following email:

To All my Dharma Friends/Social friends concerned,

According to my Psychological Convention/observation/experiences, please kindly help me remove the name" RUN PHIM SINAROITH" (who works for Cambodian Television Network-CTN) from my black list of distrust/breach of trust/and misbehaviors. I think, on her own behalf, she is not a bad woman by nature. We were not looking at men/women's relationship or any deviant relationship during our happy and friendly union/association, but social networking at the time. Thanks for the first time for your mutual understanding and tolerance. Please do it wisely and secretly at your earliest convenience. Be better-informed that my social network will not used for any deviant behavior or any kind of destruction both to individuals and society as whole, it shall be used any relevant purposes that serve the poor, the disadvantaged in society, and those people who are really in need of our social network.

Sorry for any mistake caused in creating this notification message!
Thanks for your kind co-operation and your wise dissemination of the message.

Note: This removal of the name from the black list is for RUN PHIM SINAROITH (the TV announcer) who works at Cambodian Television Network (CTN), and not the namees of Yeay Kdar Kdet and her supporters or the CPP members. Thanks!

This Sanith Sim also emails the news from Khmer Intelligence. I find it remarkable that he and most likely others maintain a black list of people they deem distrustful, helping their enemy (the CPP and the current government), or are otherwise considered harmful to their ideals and ideas, whatever they may be. I don't know how I got on this mailing list, but I certainly do not support this group or groups. They condemn methods used by their enemy but use those same methods themselves. Hypocrisy, and that from an ordained monk.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Moving in Circles - Addendum

What a coincidence; yesterday Prime Minister Hun Sen stated he would not ask for a pardon for Sam Rainsy this time around. Since the PM never goes back on his public pronouncements (as far as I know) I believe we can expect that this will be the end of Sam Rainsy's political career in Cambodia. I just can't see SR coming back to face a certain prison term.

Whether all this is good or bad for the opposition remains to be seen. The country as such surely won't suffer any consequences, e. g. donor countries cutting back on aid, etc., which Sam Rainsy and his cohorts always clamored for. But with Sam Rainsy gone this actually would give the opposition a chance to regroup and form a real opposition, not one just based on one personality. But then, this affair is far from over, I would think. The next few months will tell.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Moving in Circles

The SRP issued a press release today saying that now the Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities had quietly removed unofficial border markers similar to the ones Sam Rainsy and the villagers removed in October.

But the conclusions the party officials draw from this are somewhat odd.

As Sam Rainsy has exposed, the poles he pulled out were planted on Cambodian farmers’ rice fields that are private properties with the farmers holding legal land titles to justify ownership of their land. Therefore, since the wooden poles were planted on their private properties without their consent, the farmers were entitled to remove them (the poles) or to ask somebody else to do it for them, which Sam Rainsy did at marker #185.

Now realizing they are on weak legal ground in the prosecution of Sam Rainsy and the concerned farmers, the authorities have surreptitiously resorted to do the same thing as Sam Rainsy did, i.e. removing illegally imposed border markers, which is leading to a judicial imbroglio illustrating the political nature of the charges levied against Sam Rainsy


If authorities put markers on your land, regardless of whether you have a legal title or not, you cannot simply go and remove those on your own. Under normal circumstances, however, the authorities would notify the land owners of their actions beforehand and not after the fact. But this is Cambodia. Nevertheless, the correct way to handle this on the farmers’ part is to meet with the authorities to voice their grievances, and then follow the appropriate procedure in pursuing their claim. And it doesn’t matter whether or not the judicial system in a country is flawed. One still needs to abide by it.

So now the authorities removed other markers because their case against Sam Rainsy is on shaky legal grounds? I don’t get that logic. And now this is leading to a judicial mess? No wonder their political opponents can only laugh at the SRP. With arguments like these they won’t get far. The charges may be politically motivated but are not political in itself; racial incitement and destruction of public property just isn’t – as farfetched as they may seem.

I am just making these arguments for the sake of showing the ineptitude of the SRP in their handling of pubic relations. I think this whole affair is ridiculously overplayed on both sides. Sadly, though, the way it plays out it might involve prison terms for some poor farmers. Sam Rainsy didn’t think ahead of what this might entail, and the authorities were simply given another arrow in their quiver; eventually he will be sidelined so much that his position in Cambodia will become negligible. By staying away from Cambodia he is just helping them do it. Who is Sam Rainsy trying to fool offering himself up in exchange for the release of the farmers? He knows this will never happen in the first place. Or perhaps, the King will step in once more and all charges will be dropped after a letter of apology was accepted by the government – déjà vu. Is this constructive in making an impact on the country as a whole? The man on the street doesn’t think so. They don’t even care any more. It is just as well whether Sam Rainsy is in or outside Cambodia. Perhaps, Sam Rainsy and his followers should rename their party the ‘Don Quixote Party’, a much more apt name for them.

On another note, Kem Sokha of the Human Rights Party called for unity among the opposition parties in fighting the CPP. He sure has a point there, but the Sam Rainsy Party quickly countered the door is open for any other party to join the SRP. Like, hey, we were the first to come up with this idea and, after all, we got more than 20% in the last election - déjà vu. How silly can they get? Is this all they can offer for establishing a united front?