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.
Continue reading

Travel continues to infiltrate my blog about Cambodia

Written years ago, the focus of my blog as expressed at the top continues to be true: “Reflections on Living in Another World.”

Although you may have noted a sprinkling of posts that are more about my travel experiences than my perspectives on Cambodia, especially Phnom Penh, rest assured that I don’t see this blog as merely or mostly a travel blog.

Yet it occurs to me as I write that maybe you’d prefer more travel and less of my observations about the country where I have made my home since the end of 2013.  If so, you’ll be particularly pleased over the next several weeks.  Indeed, I may find it hard to avoid commenting on aspects of the wider world as I spend increasing amounts of time outside Cambodia in satisfaction of the travel bug that afflicts me.  Nor will I abandon trips worth describing when I make my way around the country.

That said, I am unable to Continue reading

Investment in construction surges against all odds

Source: Phnom Penh Post

Source: Phnom Penh Post

The biggest disincentive for investing in land and new construction in Phnom Penh ought to be, in my view, how much of it is taking place. I have written several times in this space about the swelling bubble that I believe I am witnessing.

The bubble notwithstanding, other reasons would seem to militate against considering a building project in Cambodia, and I’ll get to those factors in a minute.

It is my belief that the dimensions of the growing bubble are clear: Construction and real estate investments achieved 13.75 per cent more growth in the third quarter over the same time last year. The government puts the combined worth at $1.752 billion, an increase in value of $1.54 billion over the previous year.

That recently persistent growth somehow has occurred despite 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