Sunday, March 7, 2010

Recent News - March 2010

1. Sponsorship of the Military

The Prime Minister recently announced that private enterprises and individuals should sponsor a military unit. Promptly, the Phnom Penh Post published a list of such sponsors, allegedly drawn up by the government. The government did not issue a confirmation, nor did it deny that this list was indeed real.

I don’t know where this idea came from and who the father of this brainchild was. On the outside it makes sense for a country that is so cash-strapped for necessary development programs; but then, it spends about 3% of the national budget on the military, but the overall spending on security is almost 13%, or $256 million, which is quite hefty all things considered. And additionally, it isn’t as if Cambodia is in state of siege and would need all this patriotic, meaning material, support from its citizens. Realistically, the threat of war with Thailand is virtually non-existent. Those border skirmishes certainly stoked Cambodian’s pride and fervor for their heritage, but to use this as a pretext for such an action appears a little far-fetched.

Perhaps somebody got this idea traveling in the U. S. There you can adopt a highway. The sponsorship entails the donation of a certain amount of money that would be used to repair a stretch of highway. In return that stretch would be named after the sponsor and posted along the highway.

So how about calling this program, “Adopt a Brigade.” Then the brigade would not be ‘Unit 256’ but the ‘XYZ Brigade’ – the commercialization of the military. Maybe two competing companies could then solve their marketing conflicts with military force?

I hope this idea dies as quickly as it appeared.

2. Internet Exchange Points

The other news that raised the hackles of many a person was the idea that Telecom Cambodia would be awarded the installation of one sole Internet Exchange Point, effectively giving Telecom control over Internet content in Cambodia. In a country where less than 1% of population have access to the Internet, this is just as ill-conceived an idea as the one above.

It also raised concerns when the head of Telecom announced they could indeed block any undesirable content, which is nothing less than censorship. Although Telecom is state-owned its function is to provide telecommunications to the public, not to censor news or restrict the freedom of expression.

The Minister of Information, Khieu Kanarith, mollified the public with his statement that the government has no interest in restricting the flow of information from the Internet, and even cited the ‘undesirable’ website Reahu that was not blocked (despite Md. Bun Rany’s attempts to have it shut down). So let’s just hope that the head of Telecom was making unreflected personal comments (there is a nice slang term for this: 'talking out of his ….'), which indeed appeared to be the case here, given Khieu Kanarith’s rejection of the idea.

The other issue, of course, is the central Internet Exchange Point, which by all acounts is a free service provided by a few ISPs, but when awarded to Telecom would become a chargeable service, making already expensive Internet access even more expensive. The Internet is not only an entertainment media but also a great source of valuable information and can be and is used for educational purposes. Making it less affordable to the masses is tantamount to restricting access to the Internet. And that’s a bad idea in today’s world, no matter how you look at it. However, it’s not a done deal yet, so there is room for hope it will fade away quietly but forever.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Will He Rise Above Himself?

In view of Sam Rainsy’s recent self-imposed exile the question arises whether he can ever become the opposition leader in Cambodia again. It appears as though this time his opponents want him gone for good. He may appeal to the world opinion and hold press conferences all he wants, it won’t have much effect on the eventual outcome. Which also leads to the questions well-known government critic and eminent overseas Khmer commentator Dr. Tith raised in an open letter published on his website back in February 2010, and which I am quoting here in an edited version.


Is he an effective and capable leader?

The answer centers on whether Sam Rainsy can be an effective opposition leader against Hun Sen and his CPP and whether he has all the characteristics of a great leader such as those below-mentioned world leaders who led their people to freedom.

Sam Rainsy does not have the minimum of characteristics required of a national hero such as South Africa’s Nelson Mandel, Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, or India’s Mahatma Gandhi to attract respect and support from the most influential, and respectable people and leaders in the world. This is the main question about Sam Rainsy as a leader. Therefore, will he be able to muster the all necessary support that is needed internally and externally, to carry the heavy burden that he assigned to himself?

Can he be compared to other well-known modern heroic leaders such as; Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahatma Ghandi?

The answer is unfortunately, No. Because he lacks the moral and physical courage of those great leaders mentioned earlier. We do not wish him to be jailed by Hun Sen. But, some time, when a leader is engaged in challenging a “leader” like Hun Sen, there is almost a certainty that jailing is a very high possibility. All three great leaders mentioned earlier have spent an enormous amount of their useful years in jail; Mandela had spent 27 of his life in jail and solitary confinement, under the racist South African Aparthei regime; Mahatma Gandhi, more than nine years in British jail, and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi has been in house arrest for the last ten years. In addition, even great thinkers such as the Chinese philosopher and political moralist, Confucius and the French Playwright, history philosopher, and founder the Enlightenment Movement in Europe, did not hesitate to go to jail in the defense of their belief.

Will he be able to challenge Hun Sen?

The answer deriving from the factors contained in the previous questions, is No. Because, Hun Sen has the full support of Sihanouk; and Sam Rainsy is trapped by Sihanouk due to his family’s past complex – father - relationship with the former king.


One may not completely agree with this assessment, but it is hard to dispute considering his fleeing the country whenever he is in hot waters. It appears as if Sam Rainsy does not have the moral and physical courage to face the consequence of his actions. His jail sentence may be a miscarriage of justice, and the new lawsuit against him appears just as preposterous, but so were the lawsuits and ‘legal’ actions against those great leaders Dr. Tith mentions. Sam Rainsy has chosen exile over jail, like most people would, but perhaps going to jail, making him in effect a martyr, would be the one heroic act elevating him to true leadership status. That act, however, takes courage only few people possess.

All the more surprising was an announcement made by an SRP spokesperson that Sam Rainsy would return to Cambodia soon. That statement contradicts the ones Sam Rainsy made not long ago that he would not come back to go to prison; that he will fight from abroad.