Dedicating 27 articles today before Phnom Penh Post is absorbed away from its professionalism

Posted by: | Posted on: May 7, 2018

 Op-Ed: The Phnom Penh Post

Phnom Penh Post Articles

Freedom and the challenges of teen pregnancy in Canada

Email from Canada,

FREEDOM is the lifeblood of human enterprise.  Free-market countries have higher standards of living, social development and productivity levels.  Some, though, contend that freedom is a double-edged sword.

Greater independence from parents and guardians can lead to the creation of a more open, more progressive society in which young people are free to engage their talents and amass practical knowledge.

But some say too much freedom can lead to undisciplined and incompetent adolescents.

In Canada, adolescents enjoy a wide array of freedoms, sexual, romantic and otherwise.  But high teen pregnancy and divorce rates have some policymakers worried.

Still, statistics show that national teen pregnancy rates have been declining.  A study from 1996 to 2006 showed a drop of 37 per cent, compared with a 25 per cent decline in the neighbouring US.

This doesn’t necessarily mean  teenagers are less sexually active.  In fact, a study found about 50      per cent of teens aged 16 and 17 engage in sexual activity.

These findings confirm what has become only too visible in daily life: teens holding hands, hugging, kissing and generally revelling in young love, all in public.

The teen-pregnancy study includes statistics on births, abortions and miscarriages.  The Canadian government views all three outcomes as having a negative impact on society.

If newborns survive the delivery process, teens are often unprepared to act as parents.  And miscarriages and abortions can result in various diseases and complications that can stall the mother’s education and development.

Teen pregnancy affects individuals, families and entire communities, placing a social and economic burden on the whole of society.

According to the study, the welcome decline in teen pregnancy can be attributed to an increase in awareness about sexual health and protection among teenage girls, as well as increasingly easy access to clinics and family planning counsellors.  Young women are using their freedom to make safer decis-ions, entering the adult world of sex and romance armed with more information and more confidence.

The story may be different in Cambodia.  Canada is fairly open to adolescent sexual activity and independent decision-making, but the issue is rarely talked about in Cambodia, where cultural conservatism and embedded tradition keep teenage sexuality under wraps.

For this reason, teen pregnancy rates are higher and show little sign of declining.  Until the Kingdom begins some sort of dialogue on teenage sexuality, young women in Cambodia will continue to have their education interrupted and their freedom curtailed.

About Sophoan Seng
I am the single son of a farming family from Siem Reap. I spent more than 10 years as a Buddhist monk. I graduated with a master’s degree in political science from the University of Hawaii and am a PhD candidate at the same university.

My interests are social-capital research, the empowerment of young people for social change, and grassroots participation to developing democracy. I am a freelance and president of the Khmer Youth Association of Alberta. I can be reached at sophan@hawaii.edu

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Rich Oil-Sands of Alberta, Canada

Emails from Canada: Sophoan Seng

Alberta is well known as a leading exporter of natural resources like timber and oil in Canada. Large foreign companies from the US have invested billions of dollars extracting oil and gas in this territory to make up for the shortage of oil for energy in their country. Oil deposits which are called “oil sands” are very distinctive from what is found in those oil rich countries such as Iran or Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, and the monitoring and regulations of this lucrative industry has never been neglected.

The official website of the Alberta government describes Alberta’s oil sands as the backbone of the Canadian and the global economy, adding it is a great buried energy treasure which has continuously supplied stable and reliable energy to the world. Oil sands are a naturally composed mixture of sand, clay or other minerals, including water and bitumen, which is a heavy and extremely thick, sticky oil that must be treated before it can be processed by refineries to produce usable fuels such as regular gasoline and diesel. Oil sands can be found in many locations around the globe, but the Athabasca deposit in Alberta is the largest and most developed and it has utilised the most advanced technology to produce oil.

Canada’s Facts and Statistics Department has ranked Alberta’s oil sands second after Saudi Arabia in terms of proven global crude oil reserves. In 2009, the total proven oil reserves were 171.3 billion barrels, or about 13 percent of the total global oil reserves, which is about 1,354 billion barrels. The net income in the fiscal year of 2009 for the Alberta government was more than US$3 billion in royalties from oil sands projects, which was lower than 2008 at $20.7 billion. But they project it to skyrocket and revenue to hit $15 billion in the next few years. Ultimately, about 99 percent of Alberta’s oil comes from oil sands.

Responsible corporations and the government’s clear goal and commitment have transformed Alberta oil sands into a blessing, not a curse. All approvals, licences, dispositions, permits and registrations relating to oil sands are required by Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), Alberta Environment and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development bodies. This enables the comprehensive task of handling oil sands investments.

However, in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, University of Alberta scientist David Schindler told the public that the high levels of toxic pollutants in the Athabasca River were caused by oil sand mining. Schindler and his team of researchers found that oil sands development projects were contaminating the Athabasca River watershed area. The scientists found that seven “significant pollutants” were at levels that exceeded government guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. This new finding contradicted the government’s previous argument, which had always claimed that the naturally occurring bitumen had low levels of pollution.

After publishing in 2009 the first peer-reviewed paper from Schindler and his team, an ongoing political debate started, the story grabbed the public’s attention and a group of experts was given the job of finding the best solution for this rich oil sands industry. From public and private debates to ones in parliament and political institutions, a solution must be found to ensure the sustainable development of this non-renewable natural resource.

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Jobs and Employment in Canada

Letters from abroad

There is a popular saying that “to live is to work”, and while life is not all about work, the saying seems to hold true in Canada, Cambodia and around the world. Most people cannot live without a job, but the approach from the governments in various countries to the problem of unemployment differs greatly. It might be interesting for you to hear about the ways in which Canada’s government and private sector have intervened in order to help more citizens get jobs and keep the ones they have.

First, there is a growing number of job search agencies who help both new and experienced workers find jobs suitable to their educational background and experiences. Enrolled students learn about networking strategies, curriculum vitae, cover letters and interviewing skills. These agencies also partner with private groups and the government to launch job fairs, which exist in Cambodia on a smaller scale, in order to bring together employers and employees. In fact, I was employed as a result of my participation in a job fair.

Second, the government helps unemployed citizens by providing them with short-term support through both skills training and living expenses. Many unemployed workers are directly subsidized to allow them to maintain a level of strength and professionalism while they search for a new job. The money that funds this program, called the Employment Insurance (EI) program, was deducted from workers’ salary if they worked before.

In my hometown, the government has established an organization called the Alberta Learning Information Services (ALIS) as the central hub to bridge employers, employees and educational opportunities. At the website (alis.alberta.ca/), we can learn about many things ranging from planning a career, or planning educational trajectory to finding a job. The most helpful feature for job hunters is the self-assessment tools that enable them to test their skills in various industries. For instance, if you graduated in the field of social science, you are expected to work as curator, editor, demographer, political scientist, or economist. Each industry has also differentiated job descriptions, personal characteristics, and experiences.

Overall, the philosophy of government in facilitating increased employment has the reciprocal benefit to the whole society as it will bring about a stronger economy for everyone.

Sophan Seng is a Cambodian living in Canada. He is the facilitator of the Khmer-Canadian Buddhist Cultural Center and president of the Khmer Youth Association of Alberta. If you are living abroad and you want to share your experiences with our readers, send your letters to lift@phnompenhpost.com

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Health Care is Free in Canada

Letters from abroad

The health-care system in Canada provides almost free medication and health services for all tax-paying Canadians. The local government of Alberta has recently reformed its health-care policy to provide free-of-charge health services for all Albertans, regardless of their income or social status. While many other sectors have been effectively privatised, the health-care System is still operated by the government. Having guaranteed health-care from the government has attracted more people to settle down and make their living in Alberta.

People in all countries agree that the health of citizens is a priority, and in Canada, citizens have agreed that subsidising healthcare is a great way of making it more accessible for everyone. Canada is a fully democratic country and politicians, representing ordinary citizens, have agreed that supporting healthcare is a good use of tax money. Canadians not only spend tax money on healthcare; they also pay for other public goods such as playgrounds, public parks, roads and schools. According to a news release on February 9, 2010, the government of Alberta will focus on healthcare as the priority in its 2010 budget. The report says that “despite current fiscal challenges, the Alberta government will increase funding for health, basic education and support for seniors and vulnerable Albertans, while maintaining the lowest taxes in Canada”.

As a result, Albertans won’t have to worry about the high price of healthcare like people do in the United States. Since they needn’t worry about the cost, a growing number of families have family doctors for personal health checks. Many people visit their family doctor regularly or sometimes on a monthly basis. Sopheap Ros, who migrated to Alberta with his parents when he was 3-years-old from a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border, now holds an Alberta Health Card that enables him to visit doctors freely, get blood tests, X-rays and medical consultations. “I am free of frustration regarding health problems. I have regularly visited my family doctor to ensure that I am healthy,” Sopheap Ros said.

Public debate here has revolved around questions about the gains and losses of providing free healthcare to every Albertan. The conclusion has been that universal coverage will benefit the well-being of all people in the workforce, and also improve the job market for nurses, doctors and health workers.

Interestingly, there are many educational institutes that concentrate on health, yet statistics show that there is a lack of nurses and family doctors in Alberta. Therefore, many current operational nurses in the province are from foreign countries such as the Philippines.

Sophan Seng is a Cambodian living in Canada. He is the facilitator of the Khmer-Canadian Buddhist Cultural Center and president of the Khmer Youth Association of Alberta. If you are living abroad and you want to share your experiences with our readers, send your letters to lift@phnompenhpost.com

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Cambodian Canadian Diaspora New Year Celebration

Letters from abroad

April is a busy month for Cambodians all over the Khmer diaspora since Khmer New Year is fast approaching. Since the holiday is not recognised by governments in foreign countries, Cambodians living abroad must wait for the weekend to celebrate the holiday. Some communities celebrate the holiday at Buddhist temples, but more often than not, people celebrate the new year in public halls or other rented spaces.

While the location of the celebration may not be familiar to many Cambodians, the events themselves have changed little among Cambodians living abroad. Go to a Khmer New Year celebration in Canada and you are likely to see authentic food, religious ceremonies, popular games, and traditional arts and entertainment.

The thing that always impresses me most is the beauty of the women wearing traditional Khmer outfits. The graceful appearance of Khmer women and their styles of dress have remained intact. “I have always worn traditional Khmer outfits to attend Khmer festivals, wedding ceremonies and traditional gatherings,” said Kimleine, who has been living away from Cambodia since she was a toddler.

I would say that every Khmer family I know has plenty of traditional clothes for such events. Peddlers display different styles of Khmer cloths every time a cultural event is upcoming.

“I like the style a lot, especially Khmer traditional outfits for weddings,” said Kimleine.

While traditional styles have remained the same for many years, other styles are always changing, and it can be expensive to keep up. Kimleine complained that the rapid change of karaoke fashion is costly for her to follow. “I think popular Khmer styles like we see on karaoke videos are easily outdated,” she said. “So we always need to buy a new one, which is very expensive.”

According to researcher Janet Mclellan, Cambodian Canadians are still strongly attached to traditional styles. In a posting on the Multicultural Canada Web site, the author explained that “during cultural celebrations, women and young girls wear the traditional Khmer dress of sarong, sampot and krama (a long scarf in different colours, woven from cotton or silk)”. But these outfits are not easy to wear when you are used to more modern clothes. While wearing traditional clothes, one must be careful while walking, sitting or moving.

As with many things in Cambodian culture, the younger generation is being asked to carry on the traditions of their family and countrymen. While most of them, like Kimleine, are happy to do this, it requires an increasing amount of flexibility and adaptability for youth who have embraced modernity in the rest of their life.

Sophan Seng is a Cambodian living in Canada. He is the facilitator of the Khmer-Canadian Buddhist Cultural Center and president of the Khmer Youth Association of Alberta. If you are living abroad and you want to share your experiences with our readers, send your letters to lift@phnompenhpost.com

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Hockey Sport  in Canada

Letters from abroad

Just few weeks ago, Canadians were proudly cheering on their team as they celebrated Canada’s gold-medal hockey win over America in the 2010 Olympic winter games held in Vancouver. Days afterwards, the National Hockey League (NHL) resumed its regular season, and in April the league will begin its own championship tournament. There are 32 hockey teams in the NHL who represent 32 cities with their hockey-playing prowess.

The league is divided into 16 teams on the West Coast and 16 teams on the East Coast. Canada has six teams in the East Coast league, with the other 26 teams coming from America. The playoffs are the grand finale of the season, where eight teams from each side of the continent play each other for the Stanley Cup, a trophy that is given to the league’s best team each year.

“I am cheering for the Calgary Flames to reach the playoffs,” said Kevin Troung, who is an 18-year-old fan of the Canadian hockey team. “They are currently battling with the Red Wings of Detroit to get a chance to enter the Stanley Cup finals.”

While football is the most popular sport in Cambodia, hockey is without a doubt the most popular sport in Canada, and the two games have many differences. In football, the players run around on the green grass wearing nothing but shin pads to protect themselves from injury. Hockey players, on the other hand, are equipped with helmets, padding and a stick that they use to move the puck (like a flattened ball) around the ice while they move around on their skates like hurricanes. Each side is composed of six players: three forwards who attempt to hit the puck into the opponent’s small goal, and two defenders and a goalie who try to stop the other team from scoring. Like soccer, the winner is the team that scores the most goals.

Media commentators in Canada describe hockey as the most attractive sport in the world, with the ability to bring together people from all ages and social strata. It is not only players in the NHL who devote themselves to hockey; schools and communities encourage students and youths to join their own teams for a healthy extracurricular activity, or in some cases to begin a career in athletics. And it is not only in the arena that you see hockey fans. It is common to see streetcars and houses adorned with Flames flasg all around Calgary.

Sophan Seng 
is a Cambodian living in Canada. He is the facilitator of the Khmer-Canadian Buddhist Cultural Center and president of the Khmer Youth Association of Alberta. If you are living abroad and you want to share your experiences with our readers, send your letters to lift@phnompenhpost.com

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Khmer Youth Association of Alberta

Letters from abroad

It’s February in Canada and the temperature is below the freezing point. The people are shaking in the cold, harsh winter wind and the ground is entirely covered by a thick layer of white ice. Pheak Kdey, who is 30-years-old, drives his BMW through the blistering cold every day to work at his gas station. But today, he is taking time to join a meeting with other ethnic Cambodians to discuss their action plan for 2010.

The six-strong Khmer Youth Association of Alberta has contributed substantially to its community since it was founded in 1994 in Calgary, a sprawling city in western Canada. Pheak Kdey, who migrated from a border camp in 1983 during the civil war in Cambodia, was raised and educated here, and now runs a family business.

Pheak Kdey is one of many young Cambodians who have grown up in a foreign country, and he said that this hasn’t always been easy. “My parents had a difficult time adapting to a new life in an unfamiliar culture, surrounded by people speaking a foreign language,” he said. “But I enjoyed making new friends at school, and I became a coordinator between my parents and other people in our community.” After graduating from high school, Pheak Kdey began working at a gas station and seven years later, he was the station’s owner.

“You must build clear goals, have an applicable action plan and have persistence to reach your destination,” he said. “I have started from scratch to run my family business while competing with the local people who have better resources than us,” he said. In the future, Pheak Kdey plans to improve and expand his station as much as possible.

In addition to his responsibilities to himself and his family, Pheak Kdey has participated with community enhancement groups to encourage other youths to envision their life far beyond the comfort of their homes. Under its action plan, the Khmer Youth Association intends to achieve goals such as increasing environmental sustainability by collecting bottles to recycle, helping to shovel snow, raking the leaves, trimming the grass for community facilities, gathering youths for picnics and camping, and helping to organise other annual community events.

Take Pheak Kdey as an example – dedication is the key to success, regardless of what country you are in. I ask all youths to utilise their potential in encouraging their family, community and nation to come together for the collective well-being.

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Entertainment Mindset of Khmer-Canadian Youths

Letter from abroad 10-03-2010

You might be curious to know what young Khmers living abroad choose to do to entertain themselves in their free time. Surprisingly, many of them choose to listen to the same Khmer pop and karaoke music that is so popular in the Kingdom.

While riding in his car, I noticed that my friend Patrick owned a number of Khmer CDs, ranging from oldies to modern songs. “I have always listened to Khmer songs,” said 23-year-old Patrick Meas, who has lived in Alberta since he was very young. “Preap Sovat is my favourite singer.”

Considering that he has lived most of his life away from Cambodia, as a Canadian citizen, it is incredible to see that Patrick can sing “Beautiful Girls” in Khmer.

While the song was originally sung by Jamaica-American rapper Sean Kingston, it is very popular in Canada and has been repeatedly played on the radio here. The fact that an American song was translated into Khmer and now is being sung by Canadians shows the intermingling of cultures around the world.

Khmer music is not only providing Cambodian immigrants with a chance to enjoy their free time, it is also an opportunity to listen to the Khmer language. Many young Khmers living abroad are able to understand and communicate in Khmer language with their parents at home and some friends from Cambodia, but do not have too many chances to practice the language with other native speakers. Deabra Chan, a 23-year-old Khmer Canadian, said, “Khmer music has not only entertained me, but also offered me with knowledge of society, places and expressions, which has developed my Khmer language ability.” Deabra has also been involved in Khmer community volunteering and Khmer ballet dance. “I like to sing Karaoke at home on the weekend,” she said.

Many young Khmer-Canadians absorb the multi-cultured stream of concepts that come through music from around North America, and around the world. Listening to a wide range of musicians enhances their capacity for open-mindedness and tolerance. However, while associating with friends from diverse backgrounds, they also have the opportunity to take pride in Khmer music and show it off to their peers.

Khmer communities in Canada organise entertainment two to three times every year. They invite popular Khmer singers to host the events, and also ask them to perform. This year, the Khmer community in Calgary, Alberta, hosted a special year-end concert by inviting a popular singer from Cambodia, Ms Chhoun Sreymao.

The event drew many youths to watch Khmer traditional dance, eat Khmer food and enjoy Khmer culture.

Young Khmer-Canadians have been raised in the Western way, but Khmer music is still embedded in their soul. Their way of life may not be entirely Cambodian, but they still hold on to the beautiful music of Cambodia in their lives.

Sophan Seng is a Cambodian living in Canada. If you are living abroad and you want to share your experiences with our readers, send your letters to lift@phnompenhpost.com

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The Importance of Bilingual Abilities

Welcome to LIFT issue 6

Language is a crucial instrument in facilitating global connectivity. In Cambodia, many younger generations are extending their horizons by learning and speaking a variety of foreign languages. English is the most common foreign language, however Japanese, Chinese, Korean and French are all widely studied as well.

Language is not only giving students more opportunities in the job market, it is imperative in developing the abilities of kids and encouraging a critical and open-minded attitude towards society.

Researchers found that students who are able to communicate in more than one language not only have more employment opportunities, they are also able to adapt to new environments and have a more advanced aptitude for writing and mathematics

Students in Cambodia are the seeds of both the community and the nation, and these things will only grow within a global society if young people are equipped with bilingual speaking abilities. They will avoid becoming outdated if they can speak a language beyond their mother tongue Khmer.

Information and technology are the main drivers encouraging young people to develop their capacity beyond the boundaries of their native language. Widespread availability of cell phones and the Internet is making communication with the rest of the world ever more possible.

The benefits of being bilingual are gigantic and will make for brighter future for people in all levels of society. In Cambodia, public schools should consider providing opportunities to students to learn foreign languages at an earlier age and provide a space for practicum learning rather than just parroting their teachers. By Sophan Seng, a contributor to Lift and a Cambodian national living in Canada

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Bridging the poverty gap

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Economist and Nobel laureate Eric S Maskin speaks with the Post at the Hotel Cambodiana last week.

Dear Editor,I agree with Professor Eric Maskin, who says that Cambodia has been at risk from a growing gap between rich and poor (“Nobel laureate to push PM on school reform”, January 20).

An unbalanced distribution of the wealth of the nation has worried many scholars besides Maskin, including David Jonathan Gross, who is also a Nobel laureate.

Cambodia can be viewed from two perspectives: progressive by comparison and progressive in actuality. If we compare the Kingdom to the past, we can see that anti-colonialism, the Cold War and globalization have played a significant role in Cambodia’s recent history.

The era of Lon Nol and Pol Pot must be evaluated in light of global cold war politics and the opposition between communism and democracy. Cambodia had no peace during this period, and the intractable conflicts led to mass killings and foreign intervention.

Though the media have focused considerable attention on this part of the Kingdom’s history, qualitative and quantitative progress since that time has sometimes been overlooked.

The Paris Peace Accord of 1991 brought Cambodia a measure of economic liberalisation and global connectivity that differed greatly from the cold war era and Pol Pot’s regime.

But actual progress is more elusive. Maskin says that wide poverty gaps eventually lead to social deterioration. As well, Gross has addressed the importance of providing more opportunities to the Kingdom’s youth. The government must provide greater incentives to attract youths to public service.

Actual progress requires the good will of government leaders to develop genuine economic solutions for sustainability and a more just distribution of wealth; to promote democracy through a free and fair media; to safeguard the Kingdom’s natural resources and use them for the benefit of all Cambodians; to curb the mandate of power for top government leaders; to respect the Kingdom’s diverse ethnic minorities; to improve the quality of education and the opportunities for graduates entering the workforce.

Sophan Seng
University of Hawaii

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The delusions of the January 7 debate

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A propoganda poster from the Khmer Rouge era calling for solidarity between the citizens of Cambodia and Vietnam.

Dear Editor,

Your article “PM blasts January 7 detractors” (January 5) didn’t demonstrate anything new for Cambodian politics. Leaders have always pronounced strong political rhetoric to create a clear dichotomy of pro- and anti-groups when this day has arrived. In reality, the government has consolidated full power to exercise over everything, including whether to celebrate this day or not celebrate. The current political environment in Cambodia has not given any clue of the possible threat to the stability of government at all. But why every year, when January 7 arrives, is there a flowering of incidents and controversial public speech in Cambodia?

The answers might be diverse. But I am impressed by the Khmer proverb which states: Veay tiek bong-erl trey, or, “to stir the water to see the fish clearly”. It has been 31 years since Vietnamese troops encroached on Cambodia’s borderlands, accompanied by Khmer Rouge defectors, to topple the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot. The argument since has been endless. Vietnamese troops are presented in Cambodia as either liberators, or invaders, or both. In the past decades, the two debaters carried guns and ammunitions to fight against each other, at least between the Khmer nationalists based along the border and the Khmer troops based in Phnom Penh, and backed by a hundred thousand Vietnamese troops. But after the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 and the subsequent power consolidation of the Cambodian People’s Party, the debate remains only on lips and tongues.

Hence both guns fighting and lips quarreling have significantly divided Khmer society. It has shown division over unity, disadvantage rather than advantage, and myopia rather than long-sightedness. The more we hate the past atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, the more shameful we are as the same Khmer. The more we praise foreign intervention, the more we lose national identity to those foreigners. Thus, what inputs should we welcome and what outcome should we expect? Can Cambodian people come to a joint beneficial solution to this disgraceful quarrel?
Of course, from these 31 years, Cambodian people both old and young have focused on their living standards, schooling and future cultivation. The past has become a good lesson for them. The Khmer Rouge regime will never come back again for sure. The trial of the Khmer Rouge is going on to respectively bring national reconciliation and the healing of trauma. All Cambodian parties and individuals have to join this trial and be courageous to show up at the courtroom as the primary witnesses if you really need the genuine outcome of justice. Cambodian people have to look forward to determine the broader interests of the nation. They should not entrap themselves in a “quid pro quo” of this delusional date, January 7. Take Germany as an example: They have never taken as a big deal or celebrated the day the Allied Forces, led by the United States, liberated them from Hitler’s brutal Nazi regime. That tragic past and the liberation of the Allies has been buried deeply in Germany.

Sophan Seng
University of Hawaii at Manoa
United States

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A plea from afar

Dear Editor,

Reading your article “Three more sought in removal of post at Svay Rieng border” (January 4) broke my heart.

The villagers should be congratulated and taken care of by the government for their courage in publicly claiming their ownership of the rice paddies and denouncing the violation of their territory by Vietnamese authorities who have mismanaged the process of demarcating the border. Instead, as unbelievable as it may sound, these five farmers face a terrifying fate and the loss of their status as “good” citizens.

There have been different interpretations of this story within the media, but at the end of the day, no one can deny the truth: Cambodian people living along the borders with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam no longer dare voice their concerns about neighbouring countries encroaching on their territory and stealing their land for fear of reprisals.

On one hand, the government may have good reason to accuse opposition leader Sam Rainsy of acting as a provocateur in bringing news of Vietnam’s mismanagement of border posts to the public. But on the other hand, the government is following a course of action that could rob Cambodia of its strength as a nation and destroy the immunity of every parliamentarian.

At the grassroots level, Cambodian people living along the border will no longer dare to stand up and protest against the theft of their land by neighbouring countries. At the national level, parliamentarians – both government and opposition – will lose confidence in their abilities to serve the genuine interests of the people.

The government must evaluate the situation fairly if it is to effecctively represent the nation’s interests. I would like to appeal to the government to restore the prowess of elected parliamentarians and allow them to fulfil their duties, which are more important than those of the lower court of Svay Rieng. I would also like to appeal to the government to drop all charges against the five farmers – Prak Chea, Neang Phally, Prak Koeun, Meas Srey and Prom Chea – and release them without condition.

Sophan Seng
University of Hawaii

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Delegating is key to improving govt service

Dear Editor,

My reading of your article “Duty marks advent of Chol Vosa” (July 8, 2009) brought to mind a different perspective on the issue. Chol Vosa, or Buddhist Lent, is a universal concept that is much more meaningful than your news story described. In a physical sense, Chol Vosa falls during the rainy season, which prohibits monks from travelling very far to teach the Dhamma and to propagate Buddhism.

In addition, this is the period during which the young rice stalks are coming up in the paddy fields. Travellers moving through the fields could easily damage the young crops.

But mentally and spiritually, Chol Vosa represents a special rainy season retreat programme for all Buddhists. Bhikku monks, for example, and laypeople have participated in this programme since the time of the Buddha in an effort to learn and practise the Dhamma. Lord Buddha wisely understood the need for all Buddhists – especially the Sangha, or Buddhist order – to conduct this programme in order to concentrate wholeheartedly on learning and practicing his teachings once each year.

Buddhist monks must perform Pavarana Kamma, or commitment obligations, such as avoiding going outside the temple’s boundary before sunrise, waking up early each morning to chant mantras and practice meditation, participate regularly in the Pathimoka assembly, and many other obligations.

On the first day of Chol Vosa, long discussions take place that focus on the existing Vinaya, or disciplines, relating to the conduct of monks. On the final day of Chol Vosa, a concluding meeting takes place to evaluate the achievements and failures of each monk, including a period during which monks express their solidarity with and forgiveness of each other.

The offering of candles is important for monks, who use them to illuminate the darkness as they study and practice during Chol Vosa. But in modern times, candles and incense sticks are not used by all monasteries. Buddhists also have the option of making offerings of light bulbs and mosquito nets instead of candles.

Sophan Seng
University of Hawaii at Manoa

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Thank God for Catholic missionary approach

Dear Editor,

Reading Sebastian Strangio’s interview “Border camps, Buddhism and building a mission” (June 5) made me think about the different approaches of Christian missionaries in Cambodia.

I really appreciate Sister Denise Coughlan, who says her Jesuit Services Organisation doesn’t proselytise or baptise Cambodian people.

Among Christian denominations, Catholicism has carried out their overseas missions very differently. While other denominations, such as the Anglican church, have used the Bible as their means to interact with people, and employ charitable proselytising to attract people to convert, Catholic missionaries have worked tirelessly at the grassroots level. For example, in their communities they work hard providing basic education, helping to preserve local traditions and culture, and they have worked closely with Cambodian Buddhist monks.

In Cambodia recently, there has been some controversy over Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who have disturbed the calm of their Cambodian neighbours with their proselytising. Aggressive missionary approaches will, most likely,  achieve more conversions. In contrast to this approach, Catholic missionaries spend more time improving education and health care and building their understanding of folk culture.

Catholics have always attempted to strengthen their ties to the grassroots level of Cambodian society. Catholic pastors have even adopted rituals that imitate Buddhist rituals, such as sprinkling sacred water on the participants at crops blessing ceremonies.

In addition, much Buddhist language has been used by Catholic pastors.  Father Francois Ponchaud, a scholar of Cambodian history and tradition, exemplifies this.

In sum, the aim of all Christian missionaries is ubiquitous: to work towards the propagation of the Christian gospel, but their approaches are different.

World Vision, one of Cambodia’s largest charitable organisations, stated as their key mission “to follow Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God”. Many Cambodian employees working for World Vision might be a Christian or attend the Mass once per week.

The Catholic’s Second Vatican Council told those of non-Christian faith that they were created by God and they all will return to God. But this statement is badly opposed to the principle teaching of Lord Buddha, which holds that “human beings are created by Karma or deeds via thought, speech and action, and human beings can all be developed to be the master of Gods and men”.

Sophan Seng

University of Hawaii at Manoa

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May PM’s New Year’s blessing come to pass

Dear Editor,

I am surprisingly impressed by the different blessings during the Khmer New Year celebrations during the Year of the Ox, 2553 B.E. It is a very important opportunity for Cambodian people to give good wishes and blessings to each other. Political leaders have also used this day to deliver their blessing to their party members and supporters. The meaning of their blessings carries both good wishes and political messages.

The blessing that impressed me the most was that of Prime Minister Hun Sen, about the Prohm Vihea Thir Boun, or Four Sublime States of the Mind, to the Cambodian people. This blessing is extraordinarily well-known for the good leadership of the Kings, called “Dhamma King” or “Dhammika”.

Dhamma Kings have to pursue the virtue of loving-kindness (Metta), compassion (Karuna), sympathetic joy (Mudita) and neutrality (Upeka).

These four teachings are well-known among Cambodians. A good leader has to pursue this teaching, but to understand it clearly in both theory and practice is not well-conceptualised.

Furthermore, the mechanism to bring this teaching to the leaders as well as the general public is important. How can Cambodian political leaders and people pursue this Dhamma teaching? By blessings, individual observation or enlightenment, or strengthening the rule of law to embed it in Cambodian society? It would be a question for all policymakers and political leaders to leave their legacy for this ideal blessing of our current challenging and transitional world.

In the past, our parochial and charismatic leaders or kings might have been important. But now, these charismatic and capable leaders will not be substantial because the belief in democracy and good governance requires the capability of the people in active bottom-line participation and the rule of law, not the rule of any individual leader.

I hope with great optimism that the blessing of Cambodia’s prime minister this year will become a reality.

Sophan Seng

University of Hawaii at Manoa

*****

The tribunal should not be about pointing fingers

Dear Editor,

I was deeply impressed by Noam Chomsky’s perspectives on political dissent [“Tribunal ignoring US role, says Chomsky”, The Phnom Penh Post, March 27, 2009]. In the US, Chomsky is well-known for his radical ideas about US foreign policy. He is a renowned linguist, but what made him  a vital political commentator was his strong opposition to the Vietnam War. Chomsky saw nothing wrong with the North Vietnamese struggle and nothing wrong with the Vietnamese troops invading Cambodia to topple the Khmer Rouge.

In the interview, Chomsky addresses US support for the Khmer Rouge. I don’t intend to challenge Chomsky on his sharp criticism of the US and the Khmer Rouge tribunal. It is not simply a matter of pointing fingers and assigning blame, as depicted in the amusing “Sacravatoons No 1348 [“Point the finger”, at www.sacrava.blogspot.com]

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has a more fundamental meaning than just pointing fingers at each other. The central goals of this tribunal are the achievement of national healing, national reconciliation, a national collective consciousness, national unity, the strengthening of Cambodia’s judicial system and the elimination of impunity, among others. In addition to these expected outcomes, the tribunal will also help Cambodia become a “full and progressive sovereign state”. Political thinker Charles Tilly has argued that “war makes a state” in the context of European state-making. If this theory is applied to Cambodia, then the agony endured by the Cambodian people in past wars and under the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge can enlighten all Cambodian people and their political leaders. As the Khmer proverb says: “After the dark sky, the bright moon and stars will shine”. Will the Khmer Rouge tribunal yield such fruit?

The answer wholly depends on Cambodian political leaders, Cambodian people and their national collective consciousness. If they see the Khmer Rouge tribunal simply as part of a political game, the “full and progressive sovereign state” of Cambodia might disappear. Moreover, if the Cambodian people and their collective consciousness view the tribunal simply as punishment for a handful of perpetrators, the “full and progressive sovereign state” of Cambodia might also disappear.

It should be noted that the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the independence of the court, and the expansion of the number of defendants – including current political leaders – will enrich the tribunal, not distort the court or cause instability in Cambodia at all. The benefits to be had from a fair court are more important than the thought of social instability. The participation from all political leaders and the people can enhance the achievements of the court. The benefits of thinking outside the box in relation to the tribunal are more beautiful and elegant than just assigning blame and pointing fingers.

Sophan Seng

PhD candidate in political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

*****

Cambodian politics slipping backwards

Dear Editor,

Contemporary Cambodian politics has showcased its backwards development while the world is swiftly moving forward. The current Cambodian government has firmly maintained its grip on power while the main opposition parties, such as Funcinpec, have gradually disappeared, and Sam Rainsy’s party has slowly upgraded its strength to fully compete with the Cambodian People’s Party.

The imbalance of power and the lack of strong opposition will leave a greater distance in power and lead to the destruction of Cambodian democracy.

Nevertheless, the incumbent political party has fearlessly turned Cambodia into any shape it desires – for instance, their strong desire to celebrate January 7 Victory over Genocide day, while ignoring October 23, 1991, the day on which the Paris Peace Agreements were signed.

Taking the historical record as evidence, the Paris Peace Agreement was the renaissance of Cambodian development in all fields such as politics and economics, as well as the social and legal status of Cambodia in the world arena. Many political parties agreed to end the war and to shoulder the responsibility of building Cambodia under the prospect of the rule of law.

A national constitution was born and foreign aid in-flows have been large and have not stopped flowing into Cambodia since then. The Paris Peace Agreement assures the sovereignty of Cambodia as a nation-state – as a modern nation-state that is fully operating in a democratic manner.

Cambodia’s political development from an ancient empire to a current democratic nation-state has passed through significant political upheavals of anarchy, colonialism, communist destruction and foreign occupation.

After all of these changes, we see that the democratic nation-state created after the Paris Peace Agreement should help Cambodian politics to move forward.

However, the recent celebration of January 7 to denounce the Khmer Rouge and to pay gratitude to Vietnam for interfering in Cambodia’s politics contradicts the strong position stipulated in the Cambodian constitution as well as the international recognition on October 23 to ensure Cambodia becomes a fully democratic nation-state.

This celebration is welcomed by the CPP’s prominent leaders and their sympathisers, but it shows the backwardness of Cambodian politics.

Sophan Seng

PhD student in political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

********

The January 7 celebrations in context

Dear Editor,

It is a great privilege for me to write something about how the day of January 7 simply reflects the thought of a Cambodian. Of course, January 7 is still an ongoing controversial day. Some people see it as the day of foreign occupation over Cambodian sovereignty, but others see this day as their second life when Vietnamese troops toppled the Khmer Rouge regime.

However, to celebrate this day is not significantly representing Cambodians as the whole nation. It is only celebrated by the Cambodian People’s Party, which has been in power since the day of January 7, 1979.

In the past, the celebration of January 7 was likely to honour the victory over the Khmer Rouge regime and aimed to condemn, to ban the Khmer Rouge and make it impossible for them to control the country again, and, legally, to sentence them to death in absentia.

But in this year, the theme of the celebration after its 30 years in power, according to the news, is that the CPP will focus on increasing the awareness of sovereignty protection, economic development and leading Cambodia to enjoy a further level of advancement.

Hence, the January 7 day has significantly belonged to the CPP. It has not been generally accepted by the Cambodian people. Whatever theme each celebration expects to achieve, those themes still belong to the CPP, and it is truly reminding Cambodian people of the brutality, the foreign invasion and the nonstop division among Cambodian nationals.

I understand that the CPP holds this day as very important for their internal bond and achievement of pride, particularly the victory during each national election. This day might not work any longer to recall the brutality of the Khmer Rouge because by doing so, it might not be smart to pursue national unity, long-sighted leadership, national reconciliation and an advance of Cambodia to further achievement in the age of globalisation.

Sophan Seng

PhD student in political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

*****

Prison death highlights need for judicial reform

Dear Editor,

I appreciate appealing for a thorough investigation by UN representatives into the death of Heng Touch (“UN representatives call for investigation into prison death”, November 27).

This case is not the first one of impunity to happen in Cambodia. Legal frailty is strongly rooted in Cambodia and it has gradually become the “culture of impunity”.

Since 1993, administrative and judicial reform has been one of the priorities of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC). After the Untac-sponsored election, the UN and other international stakeholders have utilised the carrot-and-stick tactic to speed up the reforms in Cambodia.

On one hand, they have urged the RGC to accelerate reforms with soft and hard pressure, while on the other hand, they still keep providing funds to develop various projects run by the government. But we can see that the writing of  laws has become the only result of their efforts, while implementation [of these laws] is still slack.

The RGC has to achieve its obligation in the Cambodian Constitution, as well as the treaties that  it has signed with foreign donors to pursue good governance, decentralisation, curbing of corruption and strengthening of the rule of law.

I admire the RGC’s “Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development of Cambodia”, otherwise  named the “Triangular Plan”, “Rectangular Plan” and “Millennium Development Goals of Cambodia”.

Each strategic plan well describes the willingness to reform the legal system, particularly the national court and judiciary. The fourth mandate of RGC is going to carry out the same strategic plan with little adjustment for its next five years in power, and I wish that this good plan should not exist solely on paper.

The question of Heng Touch dying as the prisoner is relevant to the issue of the RGC’s achievements in legal reform and ongoing impunity in Cambodia.

This single case has drawn our attention to many other victims savaged by the hidden and rarely-punished perpetrators. Politicians, actresses, popular singers, Buddhist monks, unionists and ordinary people who have been devastated or even murdered have been waiting for the day when this culture of impunity will be eliminated.

The UN, as well as foreign donors and the Cambodian people, is eagerly looking forward to seeing the complete achievement of judicial reform in Cambodia.

Sophan Seng

PhD student in political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

*****

Independence or Paris?

Dear Editor,

I am dismayed by the government’s rehearsal for the national independence celebration

(‘Bigger and better’ Independence Day, October 23). Of course, Cambodia’s Independence Day on November 9 is important as Cambodia

gained full freedom from the French on that day, but I believe the Paris Peace Agreement on October 23 is equally important.

October 23 is considered a renaissance for Cambodia in both economic and political terms. Though Cambodia has encountered problems in terms of fully

implementing the chapters of the treaty, the path to democracy in Cambodia lies in the treaty’s stipulations.

While we already have full independence, Cambodia’s political upheavals will end and its democracy will become genuine when it fully adheres to the October 23

Paris Peace Agreement. I would like to suggest that all Cambodian people and political parties remember the significance of this very

important day. Political dogmas aside, October 23 should be celebrated and commemorated equally to national Independence Day on November 9.

Sophan Seng

PhD student in political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

****

Letter: Kith Meng’s use of the English language

Dear Editor,

I am also uneasy [re: Letters October 9] with the very explicit words of Kith Meng in an interview “From ATMs to fried chicken” (October 6). But I understand [interviewer] Roger Mitton’s intention to maintain the original version articulated by Kith Meng.

In his speech, Kith Meng is understandable as a very aggressive capitalist. With his businesses ranging from financial marketing to KFC, Kith Meng might not forget the theory of economic efficiency that “it cannot make someone better off without making someone else worse off”.

The questions which need to be answered by tycoons like Kith Meng are: Do they continue their extreme business monopoly? How much do they care about social externalities, including social inequity? How much of their business is used to alleviate poverty through social entrepreneurship schemes? Do they prefer property rights, regulations, fair bidding or do they prefer the current ongoing lack of good governance in order to boost their profit?

I do believe in Kith Meng’s conscience to comply with business morals and advance himself as business role model in Cambodia. In order to achieve his likely high standard of business morals, he will play an important role in future Cambodian politics and economics. Policies instrumental for fair business that would help alleviate inequity mainly rest on property rights, government subsidies, and direct provision, taxation and regulation. If in the future, Cambodia doesn’t enforce and comply with these principles there will be widening inequity that could jeopardise the whole nation.

Sophan Seng

PhD student in political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

******

Beware of globalisation

Dear Editor,

It’s just the same song with different melodies. The change of world politics from barbarianism, to colonialism and to contemporary neo-liberal globalism lie on the same latitude: the strong exploit the weak. The change is just moving from explicit exploitation to implicit exploitation.

Civil society has become institutionalised; many rich countries have created their aid agencies to support other poorer countries.

Some aid has strings attached, some does not; but both are for the benefits of the donors primarily.

Aid is good for Cambodia. It is also good for donors because they can earn respect and business profits.

Japan’s aid to build bridges or pave roads is good for Cambodian people to commute easily, and it is also good for Japanese automobile companies to increase their sales of vehicles.

China has become the number one aid provider to Cambodia, and they have no strings attached, but China can win most major concessions to invest in Cambodia. And empirically, many Chinese companies have brought in their own labour force, possibly to take that money back to their country.

In the international political arena, the measure of a nation’s decision-making is that they will maximise their benefit first. For instance, the UN has proposed Cambodia and Thailand settle their border dispute by themselves.

It is clearly understandable that the US, who predominantly influences the UN, doesn’t want to lose its benefits with Thailand. Of course, finding a bilateral solution with Thailand is not good for Cambodia.

If Cambodia expects to solve the problem with Thailand through bilateral efforts, it may only manage to prevent the Thai military from increasing its border trespass – the locations they have trespassed on already may be maintained.

Cambodia should learn to be long-sighted and review all possible impacts of globalisation.

Sophan Seng

PhD candidate

University of Hawaii

****

Govt must address the real issues of concern

Dear Editor,

I refer to your article “New CPP-dominated Assembly sworn in” [Phnom Penh Post, September 25.] The recent swearing-in is a historical moment for Hun Sen’s political leadership – his way to premiership was smooth and democratically legitimised. Previously, his path to premiership had experienced some hardships. For instance, in 1993 he was the second prime minister with Prince Norodom Rannaridh as first prime minister; in 1998 there was the coup that allowed him to consolidate his sole premiership; in 2003 parliament was stalled for almost one year before his premiership was given to him again.

I appreciate the fact that this 2008 assembly mandate has been smoothly, legally sworn in, and in particular the participation of the Sam Rainsy Party’s 26 representatives who endorse Hun Sen’s premiership for another five years as mandated. But the successful ascent to premiership through parliament does not warrant the level of centralisation in the executive branch. His government comprises far more high-ranking members than before, especially those from the dominant CPP party.

The challenges ahead are daunting – such as ensuring national security. Key issues to address this mandate are security, illegal immigration, the high rate of corruption under the current system of crony capitalism, land price speculation leading to land grabs and the ongoing border dispute with Thailand.

Security is a central claim for the next five years in power for Hun Sen. He says Cambodia in future decades will not worry about terrorism, civil war and social chaos. But the core issue of security here is not terrorism – it is food security, social equity security, democratic security and especially government officials who should be security-checked before being sworn in.

Many countries have different methods of ensuring lawmakers meet certain security standards, such as checking the background of persons to ensure that they are not abusing their position and mandate in government to do harm to their country.

This new approach of security should be amended by the parliament checking the background of any person who will be employed as military, police or state officials. Achieving this security clearance stabilises the government’s leaders as well as the whole nation.

Crony capitalism has been widespread in Cambodia. After the civil war, the open horizon of market-based economics in Cambodia swiftly and horrendously embodied itself in a type of crony capitalism. Cambodia has significantly evolved itself a “national crony capitalism”, which means all national economic mechanisms and dynamics are controlled by just a few businessmen. This kind of emergent economic trend will hinder the emergence of economic equity and will widens levels of inequality in the Kingdom.

Sophan Seng

PhD student in political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

**********

What P’Chum Ben means

Dear Editor,

Regarding your news item titled “P’chum Ben festivities kick off Sunday” (15 September). Among Cambodian annual festivities, P’Chum Ben is considered very significant.

Regarding Buddhist ethics, this festival offers a chance for all Cambodian Buddhists to pay gratitude to their deceased ancestors as well as to those living parents and elders. The principles of Buddhist practice are to get rid of all evils, to cultivate the good and to cleanse one’s mind.

P’chum Ben has bonded Cambodian society and it is the instrumental cultural thread to the nation.

In sum, P’chum Ben has been a timeline, a cultural thread, a notion of national unity and prosperity, and a bonanza of goodness of all Cambodian citizens.

Sophan Seng

political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

*****

Not-so Christian charity

Dear Editor,

Your article “Proselytising amid poverty” (September 3) explicitly detailed the truth happening among Christian missionaries in Cambodia. Christian missionaries have been academically recognised as the coordinators of colonies.

Cambodia was first known to the world significantly by a Portugal priest San Antonio, who briefly described the beautiful cultural temples and peaceful people of Cambodia. In his memo written in 1604, regarded as a short essay reflecting the reality in Cambodia, he mentioned the greatness of the Angkor Wat ruins and speculated they were so amazing they were built by Roman architects.

Later in 1678, a French priest Chevre called Angkor Wat “Onco” for the first time, by which he meant that it was the sacred sanctuary of the nation to worship, like Roman Catholics worship Saint Peter’s Church in Rome.

We can well perceive the intent of those Christian missionaries.

During the Dark Ages of Europe, Catholics didn’t centralise their power solely in Europe, but also sent thousands of their well-trained missionaries to countries outside Europe with the intent of trying to “civilise” them.

Strangely, they civilised them in the name of their Lord. Besides trying to engage people in conversions about God, those missionaries looked for other opportunities such as natural resources, treasure and opening the door for total colonisation.

This tactic of planting Christian adherents around the world was politically oriented, and the Christian religion has tremendously increased its adherents in all those colonised countries.

Not only did they fully engage themselves in this religious war called a crusade, Christianity also affiliated itself with the problems of  World War I and World War II.

Thomas Hobbes, as well as other scholars, were born to anti-Christianity. Hobbes insistently denied the existence of the kind of “state of nature” which Christians used to legitimise their power at that time through the Churches, the stories of the Creator or the tales of the Lord. Hobbes significantly shed light for the age of Enlightenment, which later welcomed the idea of liberal democracy, social contract and no authoritarianism influenced by the Church’s idea of the State of Nature.

Christianity has extensively adapted its strategies to limit the changes of the world with the intent of keeping the status quo, of continuing  to spread the Christian doctrine as well as civilising others. In the modern age of capitalism, many giant investments are owned by Christian churches such as schools, hospitals and other enterprises. The Catholic Church is considered the largest group to be running both religious and material investments in the modern world. Proselytising has certainly existed from the Dark Ages to the present  moment. In the past, Christianity used military and political power to expand its doctrine, but in the present beside proselytising, what else do you think they are going to use?

Sophan Seng

Ph.D student in political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

************

Politics must mature

Dear Editor,

Many observers have assumed current transitional Cambodian politics will gradually become mature. But I believe this is an obscure statement. If we say the tendency of Cambodian politics is towards maturity within a cave of immaturity, this might be more plausible. However, what we cannot fathom is: How bad is this cave?

Some Cambodian people and major incumbent Cambodian politicians will, not reluctantly, concur that they are very glad as a result of many new emerging things that they didn’t have during the Pol Pot period. This statement is logical, but even wise people might not see that it is still important to develop Cambodia’s political maturity. Pol Pot came to power with the intention of restructuring Cambodian society to build a new, utopian, agrarian society. The regime’s approach has become globally recognised as “year zero”. So how wise and good can we be when the present emerging development is pragmatically compared to the “year zero” of Pol Pot?

Anything now is socially, economically, politically unmatched to those of the Khmer Rouge regime. The current Cambodian hybrid Khmer Rouge trial has solemnly proclaimed its primary mission is to enhance national reconciliation, to help heal Cambodians’ [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)], and to eliminate the culture of impunity. Cambodian people should not be easily exploited by the politically orchestrated attempt to disfavour the Khmer Rouge and favour the so-called Khmer Rouge liberators. In reality, we should try and achieve some insight and understanding of the fact that while the Khmer Rouge were communist, the Vietnamese who liberated us from the Khmer Rouge were also communist. They both are communist by origin. Contemporary Cambodian politicians and people have to protect themselves from both of these two disadvantaged political influences with the overall intention of truly democratising Cambodia, developing ourselves to appreciate this new political trend and nourishing the maturity of political leaders and their followers.

Regarding the political parties, no distinction can be made between government party and opposition party. These two national political parties are interdependent and inseparable. The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) can legitimise themselves in front of the Cambodian people as well as international communities because of the Sam Rainsy Party. Similarly, the Sam Rainsy Party can have a stage to test the weaknesses and strength of their future leadership, or that of the CPP. For example, their current legal movement to reject the result of election was a brave performance.

The Cambodian people, both old and young, are observers, referees and owners of this social contract. They should not be careless and allow an imbalance of power between government and opposition to continue to happen. If such an imbalance is not dangerous per se, it is surely not compatible with the principle of liberal democracy.

Sophan Seng

Ph.D student of political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa

*****

Silent behaviour

Dear Editor,

Your recent news item titled “Good Karma for Sale” triggered my thoughts on the silent behavior of Cambodian people. Though the majority of the Cambodian population is Buddhist, they have only slightly learned Buddhist principles.

Over decades of social upheaval, Cambodian people seem to have fallen into a numb corner. This is a good chance for the Cambodian elite to take advantage of them. In term of economics, the Cambodian people are just enjoying the emergence of new buildings, roads and bridges. In term of politics, Cambodian people are satisfied with peace and social stability. This materialistic hard infrastructure blinds the Cambodian people to the all-important scene behind, the crucial soft infrastructure.

I don’t want to define current Cambodian politics as Abraham Kaplan said: “Politics is the redistribution of bandits.” But I prefer Gergen’s political thought: “A politician is a person who projects, motivates and rationalises the public for personal gain”.  World academic scholars have observed and concluded that many so-called authoritarian countries have adapted their strategies to receive the ideas of good governance, decentralisation and transparency, as well as to liberalise their national economics, with the intent of extending their power.

It makes sense for post-conflict Cambodian society to appreciate peace, stability, new roads paved, new schools and temples built, and modern cities urbanized. Generally, Cambodian people including Buddhist monks regard political leaders as the well-born persons who can legitimately own the power and wealth they have. Very often, they will not hesitate to beg them for donation. Very intelligent Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has never hesitated to utter his political rhetoric “culture of sharing”. Of course, this is the right time for political leaders to pursue this rhetoric.

Buddha addressed the way to go about donations in three thoughtful stages in order to plant wisdom into his audience. Firstly, concentrate on the right giver, secondly concentrate on the right receiver, and thirdly concentrate on the right material given. Significantly, the right material has not been given, in the same way as the crucial soft infrastructure has always been hidden.

For the long-term future and sustainable development, Cambodia should pursue the principle of every Cambodian citizen being offered the chance to get rid of this silent behavior, and political leaders should share the wisdom of reducing personal gain for the sake of collective national interests. Though the boat can move directly to the destination by a boat-hooker (leader), but without the competent boat-paddlers (peoples), the boat will inevitably be sunk.

Sophan Seng

Ph.D student of political science

University of Hawaii at Manoa