Longtime observer pessimistic about Cambodia reform

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To paraphrase the old Esquire magazine, why is Hun Sen laughing?  (Source: Phnom Penh Post)

“This is no country for decent and outspoken men.”

So begins Sebastian Strangio’s crystalline analysis of Cambodia’s political environment in the highly respected Mekong Review.  The one-and-a-half-year-old quarterly journal has given me permission to excerpt a substantial portion of the author’s astute perspective on the chasm between what might be desirable in the Kingdom of Wonder and what might be achievable.

Strangio — whose recent book on Cambodia under the 31-year rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen has received terrific reviews — draws a line between what ought to be the situation in the country versus what actually is the possibility of change.

You can read the full essay in the publication, and I suspect the excerpts below will peak your interest.
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With politics and human rights, expats have a problem

eople protest the detention of four human rights workers and an election official on Monday morning near Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison. Source: Phnom Penh Post

A few activists protest the detention of four human rights workers and an election official on Monday morning near Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison. Source: Phnom Penh Post

It is a debate that has persisted since long before I started making Cambodia my home: What should expats do or say when they object to the actions of a foreign government that permits them to live in its country?

The question surfaced again here in Cambodia when a Facebook “friend” posted a story that has dominated the three English-language dailies for days.

A subsequent report in the Phnom Penh Post on Wednesday centered on a speech in which the prime minister said he might seek to have five jailed Cambodians forgiven for their entanglement in what has been dubbed a sex scandal concerning the acting president of a political party opposed to his ruling one.  Hun Sen’s remarks followed Monday’s arrest of civil rights activists essentially for wearing black shirts as they headed to a demonstration in Phnom Penh to call attention to their plight.

If civil society groups hold back during legal proceedings, suggested the price minister, the arrested individuals could be released from custody on one condition.  He said:  Continue reading

Whither Cambodia after political deadlock is fractured?

Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy perform for the cameras.  (Source: Khmer Times)

Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy perform for the cameras, but their agreement is wanting. (Source: Khmer Times)

It is hard to consider as anything but a sellout the opposition party’s agreement last week to take its seats in the National Assembly after a year-long deadlock.

The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) had boycotted the parliament following the July 2013 election, which the opposition had justifiably branded as rigged.

The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s continuing strong-arm tactics over the past year (and many years before) persuaded CNRP President Sam Rainsy to declare victory and cave in, perhaps pointlessly.

Implicitly acknowledging that he had capitulated to a far greater power than the opposition ever could muster by taking to the streets, Rainsy publicly conceded that the deal he made with the devil was his only choice for ending the impasse.  At the same time, however, the globally gallivanting Rainsy turned his back on the large minority faction in his party.

Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainsy at Sunday's event.

Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainsy at Sunday’s event in a Phnom Penh park.  (Source: Cambodge Info)

That the leader of the CNRP faction, Kem Sokha, had been long silent about the pact is proof of the party’s vulnerability and thus its weakening as a collective force against the Cambodian People’s Party of Hun Sen, who has had an iron grip on the nation for nearly three decades.

Behind the scenes, Sokha did consent to be appointed a top parliamentary official, First Vice President of the National Assembly, so there obviously has been an effort to keep the CNRP from splintering.  Whether that initiative will work in the end is an open question: The evidence is mounting that Sokha’s supporters have been quietly demanding appeasement even as attempts to do so could result in the collapse of the agreement between the CPP and CNRP.

It was, after all, Sokha’s objection to an earlier informal agreement that Continue reading