Democratic Hopes in ASEAN Hinge on Thailand, Analysts Say
25 March 2019
- Luke Hunt
- VOA News
Thai voters head to the polls Sunday for the first time in nearly five years, and analysts say the results could have an impact on democracy throughout Southeast Asia.
Thailand’s military junta took power in May 2014, when then-army chief Prayut Chan-ocha led a coup that toppled the government. Observers see the coming elections as a struggle between democracy and military rule.ការបោះឆ្នោតក្នុងប្រទេសថៃនៅថ្ងៃអាទិត្យខាងមុខ ត្រូវគេរំពឹងថានឹងមានចំនួនមនុស្សចេញទៅបោះឆ្នោតច្រើននៅភាគខាងត្បូងប្រទេស ដែលទីនោះគឺជាកន្លែងប្រឆាំងនឹងយោធានៅក្នុងតំបន់។ ប៉ុន្តែក្រុមអ្នកបោះឆ្នោតនិងក្រុមប្រឆាំងព្រួយបារម្ភថា ការបង្រ្កាបដោយរដ្ឋាភិបាលទៅលើសំឡេងប្រឆាំងនឹងធ្វើឲ្យពួកយោធាគ្រប់គ្រង ប្រទេសមួយអាណត្តិទៀត។
Prayut, now seeking the premiership, has said that if he wins, voters would be returning his junta-led country to a “democracy.”
Thailand is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and pro-democracy advocates within the trading bloc are paying close attention to the vote, despite its policy of noninterference in members’ internal affairs.
The ASEAN Post, an independent regional digital media company in Kuala Lumpur, recently noted that freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and press freedom had deteriorated since the junta seized power, initiating the longest period of army rule in modern Thai history.
“Several hundred activists and dissidents have since been called national security threats and faced serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes and lese majeste [insulting the monarchy] for peaceful expression of their views,” it noted in a recent opinion piece.
The coup — Thailand’s 13th since 1932 — ousted then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and caused international outrage. The pending elections, the military hopes, will fix that.
The election framework echoes the 2015 ballot in neighboring Myanmar, where hopes of democratic freedom were dashed by a military that has maintained an overarching influence on a civilian administration, through its allotted seats in parliament.
A more drastic story has unfolded along Thailand’s eastern border.
Cambodia was returned to a one-party state last year after the main opposition party was banned from competing at elections, media outlets were closed and political dissidents were jailed, raising the prospect of U.S.- and European-imposed sanctions.
Elections will also be held in Indonesia in April, and midterm polls are to be held a month later in the Philippines, where the separation of powers — a cornerstone in any democracy — has foundered amid the government’s war on drugs.
Singapore has been ruled by the same party since independence in 1965. Of the remaining non-democratic countries, communist Vietnam and Laos have initiated crackdowns on dissent, while Islamic Brunei has instituted sharia.
David Welsh, country director in Southeast Asia for the Solidarity Center, a nonprofit that seeks to help build a global labor movement, said human rights were a major concern ahead of looming elections, and that the strong-arm from governments favoring big business were affecting workers and trade union issues.
“The prospects for business and trade are probably pretty good. The prospects for labor laws and worker protection aren’t, although I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what’s happened in Malaysia, so let’s see,” Welsh said.
Malaysia emerged as one the few democratic bright spots among the 10 members of ASEAN after the electorate, which tired of allegations of gross corruption, stunned pollsters and ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is now facing trial.
Cambodia: Investigate Land Activist’s ‘Disappearance’
កម្ពុជាមានធ្វើសត្យាប័ន្នអនុសញ្ញារួមអន្តរជាតិស្តីពីកិច្ចការពារមនុស្សគ្រប់រូបពីការបាត់ខ្លួនដោយបង្ខំ(The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance = ICPPED)កាលពីខែមិថុនា ឆ្នាំ២០១៣ ប៉ុន្តែការបាត់ខ្លួននិងទិទណ្ឌភាពនៃការគ្មានទោសភ័យចំពោះអ្នកបាត់ខ្លួននិងអ្នកស្លាប់ទាំងនោះនៅមានដេរដាសក្នុងសង្គមមួយនេះ។ ជាក់ស្តែងការបាត់ខ្លួននិងបាញ់សម្លាប់ទៅលើកម្មករ-កម្មការិនីនៅផ្លូវវេងស្រេង ការស្លាប់រាប់រយនាក់នៅកោះពេជ្រ ការបាត់ខ្លួនព្រះតេជគុណមាស-វិចិត រ និងលោកស៊ុម-មឿននេះជាដើម។
Preah Vihear Authorities Should Urgently Produce Sum Moeun
(New York) – Cambodian authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of a land activist forcibly disappeared in Preah Vihear province, Human Rights Watch said today.
On January 20, 2019, at about 5:30 p.m., soldiers from Battalion 261 of Army Command Intervention Division 2 of the Cambodian armed forces arrested Sum Moeun, 54, a community leader in a local land dispute, and his son, Moeun Mean, 26, in Yeang commune, Chaom Ksan district. Soldiers transferred them to Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary Headquarters, where they were detained overnight. On January 21, only Moeun Mean was taken before the provincial court prosecutor. The wildlife sanctuary headquarters said that Sum Moeun had escaped at around 8 a.m. that morning.
“The Cambodian government needs to produce Sum Moeun in court and lawfully charge him or return him home to his family,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “There should be an immediate, independent investigation of this case with full cooperation from the army, which is commanded by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Gen. Hun Manet.”
Relatives of Sum Moeun said they received information that soldiers allegedly hit and beat him with gun butts and slapped him when they arrested him. A photo taken while he was in custody appears to show bruises on Sum Moeun’s face.
In June 2013, Cambodia ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which defines an enforced disappearance as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Because they are outside of the protection of the law, a person who has been forcibly disappeared is at heightened risk of torture and extrajudicial execution.
The convention against enforced disappearances obligates the government to investigate allegations that a person was forcibly disappeared, even in the absence of a formal complaint. The authorities are also required to take appropriate measures to protect relatives from any ill-treatment, intimidation, or sanction as a result of the search for information about a “disappeared” person.
“Sum Moeun’s wife has not heard from him since his arrest and has made repeated public calls to the authorities to help find her missing husband,” Adams said. “His family has good reason to fear for his safety.”
Between January 16 and 27, security guards and soldiers arrested 15 villagers as part of a crackdown on villagers in Yeang commune accused of illegal clearing of state forest land. Fourteen villagers remain in pre-trial detention, including Moeun Mean, and face 5 to 10 years in prison.Read More …
Cambodia’s addiction to dependency: NGOs and BFG
សង្ខេប៖ អ្នកនិព្វន្ធអត្ថបទនេះព្យាយាមចង្អុលប្រាប់អោយយើងដឹងថាកម្ពុជាកំពុងប្រឈមមុខតថភាពសង្គមដោយពឹងពាក់លើអ្នកដទៃទាំងស្រុង(dependency) ហើយកត្តាលេចធ្លោរពីរយ៉ាងគឺកំសោយរបស់អង្គការក្រៅរដ្ឋាភិបាល(NGOs)និងការធ្លាក់ខ្លួនទៅក្នុងអន្លង់មិត្តយក្សល្អបំផុតប៊ីអេសជី(BFG)។ ជាការសង្កេត អង្គការNGOsមួយភាគធំប្រតិបត្តិការដោយពឹងលើជំនួយបរទេសទាំងស្រុង មិនបានគិតអំពីនិរន្តរភាពខ្លួនឯងនៅពេលណាដែលជំនួយត្រូវបានបញ្ឈប់ឬខ្លះទៀតបោកជំនួយបរទេសដោយមិនបានបំពេញតាមឆន្ទៈបំណងនៃជំនួយឡើយ។ សម្រាប់ប៊ីអេសជីBFGវិញ រដ្ឋាភិបាលហ៊ុនសែនលើកនិយាយពីអធិបតេយ្យភាពជាតិដោយមិនចុះញ៉មជាមួយអឺរ៉ុបនិងអាមេរិក ដោយយកចិនជាមិត្តធំសំខាន់សម្រាប់ប្រើប្រាស់លុយជំនួយឥតលក្ខណ្ឌ(aids without strings)មកប្រើប្រាស់បន្តរំលោភអំណាចនិងគាបសង្កត់អ្នកតស៊ូប្រជាធិបតេយ្យទាំងអស់។
In recent weeks, Khmer Times has published several opinion and editorial pieces on Cambodia’s present-day international relations challenges. Those authors were passionate in crying foul over the possible withdrawal of Cambodia’s Everything But Arms preferential treatment.
They pointed out the EU’s double standards in comparison to Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma. They also claimed that the US was complicit in this act of “social injustice”, and that it is sowing distrust between Cambodia and other Asean countries.
They rejected any US or EU criticism of human rights violations as interference in its affairs and proclaim that sovereignty and independence are paramount over EU demands.
Yet, these authors have forgotten that since the EBA is a ‘gift’ from the EU to Cambodia, then they have the right to review, take it away or do anything they want with it. They are not obligated to ensure it is fair or not when compared to similar ‘gifts’ to other recipient countries. In business, each commercial contract with a client cannot be the same.
Also, Cambodia has the right to give up the EBA if it thinks the conditions are too difficult and unfair as stated in some of Khmer Times’ editorials. But it chooses to cry and throw a tantrum.
Now that EBA suspension process is official, there are calls for Cambodia to be less dependent on foreign aid and assistance, the reason is so that its sovereignty and independence will not be held hostage by just a few partners.
Unfortunately, it is worrying how these authors can continue to deny that Cambodia has already been baited – hook, line and sinker – and has developed an addiction to dependency. It is already over-dependent on two accomplices.
Firstly, non-government organisations in Cambodia. Many NGOs do good work in Cambodia –they provide much-needed services and expertise for Cambodia’s social and economic development, environment, water sanitisation and more. They fill the gaps in Cambodia’s still developing institutions and systems. But it is also true that just as many behave like parasites, using Cambodia as the excuse to prolong their existence. In fact, many are indirectly or directly responsible for breeding dependency in Cambodia.
Many do not bother to work together but end up duplicating similar projects or areas of help. It is criminal how some NGOs even encourage ignorant and uneducated villagers to join protests, illegally occupy land and be interviewed for TV documentaries that paint their own country negatively.
Unfounded allegations? I know of Cambodians who have bragged about it. So much donor funds have been wasted on short term projects, countless reports and studies, and so many different solutions offered for the country.
Each NGO ought to have an exit strategy (and timeline) from Cambodia and to pass on knowledge, skills and expertise. If there is any conspiracy against Cambodia, this is it – not by design but a tragic confluence of selfish agendas.
Secondly, Cambodia’s “most trustworthy friend” (or other similar accolades bestowed by the big, friendly giant or “BFG”.
BFG has invested massively in Cambodia, particularly in Sihanoukville and across the country. Cambodia has benefited in the form of much-needed infrastructure, better connectivity and higher land values.
For Cambodia, the BFG is also a ready and willing source of legitimacy, acceptance and recognition that it cannot get elsewhere. But one must be blind to ignore the negative social impact of BFG’s dominance in the Kingdom. Like this newspaper I suspect it is owned by BFG if this is not published (a challenge and test!).
Cambodia runs a huge trade deficit to BFG (Cambodia buys more from BFG than the other way around). Nearly all BFG projects have very little benefit to small business and ordinary Cambodians, and mainly well-connected landowners benefit.
The increasing number of BFG businesses and shops in Sihanoukville and the capital cater only to BFG people.
Nearly all construction workers in these projects come from BFG (quite a number bring their families, setting up local shops and even local markets), with a small proportion hired locally in low-skilled menial labour work.
Most of the supply and construction materials for these projects are imported from BFG. So these projects actually help BFG export their unemployment (sending its construction workers overseas, who would otherwise not be able to find jobs back home), and BFG suppliers and construction companies benefit more than local Cambodian ones.
So for BFG grants for projects, the money actually flows back to BFG companies and people.Read More …
ទីបំផុតលោកហ៊ុន-សែនត្រូវទទួលស្គាល់ការពិតនៃការបរាជ័យខ្លួនឯងដោយសារអំពើពុករលួយនិងអវិជ្ជា ហើយបង្ខំចិត្តក្រាញអំណាចដឹកនាំប្រទេសតាមផ្លូវមិនប្រជាប្រីយមួយ(unpopular)គឺខ្លួនពាក់ស្បែកផ្តាច់ការតែមាត់និយាយថាប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ។ ក្តីសង្ឃឹមតែមួយគត់របស់គាត់គឺបន្តកុហកបោកប្រាស់ប្រជាជនខ្លួនឯងនិងបំបែកកំលាំងអ្នកប្រជាធិបតេយ្យអោយអស់។ តែពេលនេះអ្វីគ្រប់យ៉ាងគឺហួសពេលហើយសម្រាប់ហ៊ុន-សែន….យុវជនដែលមានតំណាងដល់ទៅ៧០%នៃប្រជាពលរដ្ឋសរុប១៦លាននាក់មានការយល់ដឹងច្បាស់ពីការភូតភររបស់គាត់….កំលាំងតស៊ូអ្នកប្រជាធិបតេយ្យបានកើនឡើងជាលំដាប់គឺកើនជាងពាក់កណ្តាលនគរទៅហើយ។
Op-Ed: New York Times
By Seth Mydans
BANGKOK — A Cambodian court has issued arrest warrants for eight opposition leaders who fled abroad for safety but say they are now trying to return.
The indictment in recent days by a government-controlled court in Phnom Penh, the capital, was the latest effort by Prime Minister Hun Sen to sideline opposition politicians and independent news outlets as he tries to maintain his 34-year grip on power.
Warrants were issued for Sam Rainsy, a founder of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which has been dissolved; two of the party’s vice presidents, Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang; and five other party members.
They were charged with incitement to commit a felony and plotting to commit treason, charges they say are without merit.
The eight opposition figures fled the country in 2017, fearing arrest during a crackdown on their party, and they say that if they returned now they would be subject to detention under the new warrants.
“Hun Sen wants to keep full ownership of Cambodia for himself and his family,” Ms. Mu Sochua said in an email message from an undisclosed location. “Arrest warrants on top opposition leaders in exile proves even more that Hun Sen has full use of the judiciary.”
“Returning home from exile is to be with the people and to restore hope for Cambodia to move forwards to positive change,” she added.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party had been the main challenger to Mr. Hun Sen, but it was shuttered by the Supreme Court in 2017, effectively turning the country into a one-party state. In the last parliamentary election, in July 2018, Mr. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party claimed all 125 seats.
Mr. Hun Sen has also cracked down on the independent news media, most significantly by forcing the closing of The Cambodia Daily, whose formation in 1993 had been a signal of the country’s turn toward openness and democratic rule.
For the past two decades, he has been rolling back democratic standards put in place by the United Nations in the early 1990s, clipping the wings of nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups.Read More …