Cambodia needs to see real change

Posted by: | Posted on: January 26, 2012
Thank you very much Dr. Peang-Met for raising up this very important controversial debate. In Cambodia as people have been embedded by non-independent mass media including the unalienable traumatic past of war and genocide, the group of stability and stomach need, has been conveyed by majority. However, Buddhists who have learned and experienced deep understanding of the teachings see that the highest goal of Buddhism is “liberty”, not “the four necessities”. In practice, Nama (liberty) and Rupa (four necessities) must be equal and in balance.
In Vipassana meditation, practitioners cannot get into the Dhamma stream if one cannot balance Nama and Rupa. Socially and politically observing, Cambodia is not in the stage of any thing identical to these three stages.  Scandals of non-independent judicial system, economic development through poor evictions, non-independent mass media, rampant corruption from tops to bottoms, political autocracy, favoritism and cronyism etc. have been lingering on the murky stage…do we see Cambodia is in the pathway of engineering in development and stability, engineering in creating liberty, or engineering in balancing of both social commodities?
Jan. 25, 2012Cambodia needs to see real change

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

Many readers emailed me following my series of articles on replacing Cambodia’s dictatorship with a democratic form of government. As many emails contained similar concerns, I have grouped those with similar themes and will use this column to deal with two.

I agree with readers who argued that what Cambodia needs — “first and foremost,” as a respected Khmer reader and author put it — is for the people to have “a filled stomach and stability.”
My “teachings” in this column mirror the substance of the “Introduction to Government and Politics” manual I wrote during my tenure at the University of Guam — that most of the world’s nation-states aspire to some common goals by giving government the task of providing for independence (free from outside control), stability (order and security) and economic and social well-being for all citizens. Cambodians should aspire to nothing less.
The fundamental philosophical conflicts between Western and Eastern civilizations — the West believes in the individual and his/her basic rights and freedom first; the East believes in the community and its security-stability first — have evolved.
Historically, Eastern philosophy has posited there cannot be human rights and freedom in an insecure, unstable and disorderly world and has made primary the institution of security, stability and order. In the West, there is strong opposition to compromising individual rights and freedom.
Evolution brings change — a constant, which, if applied wisely, can avoid disastrous collision.
In today’s world, Eastern nations that embrace community and stability also acknowledge the values of basic human rights and freedom, and Western nations that oppose compromising individual rights and freedom also acknowledge the value of a secure and stable society to build and strengthen the rights and freedom they cherish.
At the University of Guam, I wrote and I taught the necessity for balancing the two conflicting philosophies to build a more harmonious world.
In the real world, people aspire to similar things: To experience a level of contentment in life, to enjoy a level of good health, and to be able to meet basic life necessities — food, clothing, shelter. While a government cannot make people content, healthy or economically and socially well, it can help by providing an environment and conditions that facilitate the meeting of those needs and desires.
Cambodia’s current leadership has been in control since Vietnam’s eviction of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime from power in 1979. It was legitimized by the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and the first U.N.-supervised elections of 1993. Since a coup d’etat against the royalist partners in 1997, the current leadership has ruled the country unchallenged and autocratically.
Cambodia should be the envy of developing countries, as the government reports the economy has experienced a 10-percent annual growth rate for the past decade, and the country is quickly being developed — physically and materially. Yet, Cambodia owes a debt to foreign countries and development partners of an amount between $3.3 billion (or 29 percent of the country’s gross domestic product) and $7 billion (63 percent of the GDP), depending on which government source provides the figure.
The government also acknowledges that 35 percent of Cambodia’s total 14 million, or 5 million, live below the poverty level. Photos and videos of the miserable lives led by these poor and the violations of their rights and properties by the government inundate the Internet.
Compared to life under the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge, when it is generally agreed that more than 2 million Cambodians were brutally killed, contemporary Cambodia is a far better place. However, political calm masquerades as stability at the price of rights, freedom and the rule of law. Many seem content to accept it in place of the atrocities that preceded this government.
Four years ago, Tibet’s spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, told the world that even if “food, shelter and clothing” have been provided the people, these latter “remain only half human” because those things do not sustain human beings’ “deep nature” that requires “the precious air of liberty.”
He sees in the positive political changes brought about by nonviolent approaches — India’s Mahatma Gandhi, America’s Martin Luther King Jr., the Philippine People Power movement, the Czech Velvet Revolution, the Tibetan and Burmese protests — as revealing of the “truth” that “freedom is the very source of creativity and human development.”
His vision of the future of humanity may be related to another theme in the emails, asking for my comments on how Cambodians can avoid replacing an autocratic regime with one that is similar.
The Dalai Lama, who sees the roots of many problems as manmade, when humans are unable to “control their agitated minds and hearts,” advises people to reduce their “emotions of suspicion, hatred and hostility toward other human beings.” He calls for “an attitude shift” in society through educating the “human heart” and redressing the “imbalance” between the development of the brain and that of the heart.
A regime change is changing a regime of individuals with other individuals, who come from the same society and traditions — changing the license plate without changing the car. Cambodian opponents to the status quo must begin with a change in attitude; to begin with each of us individually … a topic for another day.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam. Write him at

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