Comment on the Letter Answering to Foreign Media OutletPosted by: CambodiaTreks | Posted on: September 4, 2013
Comment: reading the letter responding to the media outlet “The Nation of Thailand” by the spokesperson for Cambodia’s undersecretary of state Mr. Koy Kuong, has triggered my thought on the passive reaction or impassive responsiveness of the Cambodia’s political leadership. In school, I take for grant from all comments, feedbacks and critics to actively adopt, adjust and adjourn my presentation. The author has responded into small bullets to explain key point to the former article. Those bullets are clearly exhibiting the good intention of the later but visibly lacking diplomatic maturity and “macro political leadership”. For instance, the rebut on the verge of “Jasmine Spring” mentioned by the former, I think they referred to the turnout of voters to increase the seats of CNRP; but the rebut evidently reflected that the “Jasmine Spring” is the people power or mass demonstration to topple the incumbent leader.
Cambodian people free to choose for themselves
Special to The Nation September 4, 2013 1:00 am
In response to the article entitled “Cambodia: Sliding toward a ‘Jasmine Spring?’ by Lawrence Gundersen and Scott Mikalauskis, published on August 31:
First of all, after His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is Asean’s longest-serving leader. He has been in office for so long due to the fact that the Cambodian people democratically elected him to power.
Second, how could Hun Sen and his political party have won the election on July 28 if his political base is simply “made up of the Lexus-owning class” of Cambodian society? To have won 68 out of 123 seats, an absolute majority in any democratic election, Hun Sen and his party certainly still have a broad base of political support. How could Gundersen and Mikalauskis have committed such a serious fallacy, unless they have lied or simply manipulated facts to serve their political agenda?
Third, with regard to the allegation that China “has been successful in using Cambodia to splinter ASEAN unity over the South China Sea”, I wish to remind you that Cambodia is not a “banana republic”. Cambodia is a sovereign and independent nation and a member of the United Nations, like the Kingdom of Thailand and the other 191 member states of the UN. No country, including China or the US, can use Cambodia to serve its political purpose.
Fourth, it is true that the joint communique (JC) of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting could not be issued last year. The reason was that two out of ten ASEAN member states had made their own respective claims to be included in the JC. Despite the efforts of Cambodia, as chair of ASEAN in 2012, to reach a political compromise in order for the JC to be released, there was no consensus. Therefore, it was the first time in the 45 years of ASEAN that two ASEAN members effectively blocked the issuance of the JC.
Fifth, it is normal in a democratic election process to see some technical irregularities. In the case of the US elections not many years ago, there were also electoral irregularities, which led to a ruling by the US Supreme Court. Therefore, if the US elections cannot be perfect, please do not impose a double standard on Cambodia. Cambodia has its own institutions, such as the National Election Committee (NEC) and the Constitutional Council (CC), which legally deal with electoral issues. Just last week, the CC ruled that electoral irregularities would not affect the results of the election.
Sixth, it is absolutely absurd and calumnious for both Gundersen and Mikalauskis to have written that “opposition supporters and politicians have been bullied, beat up and marginalised to the point where Cambodia is a power keg”. This is distorting reality. Otherwise, how could the opposition have been able to launch massive and noisy campaigns in the recent general election, as well as continue to challenge the government at present?
Seventh, to compare Hun Sen to Robert Mugabe is a great insult to the people of Cambodia, who have democratically elected Hun Sen to office in all previous elections, which were considered to be free and fair by national and international electoral observers and monitors.
Eighth, there is no arms race between Cambodia and Thailand. This kind of thinking only exists in the minds of the authors. For Cambodia, the arrival of tanks recently was for defence purpose, like all other countries in the world. The order for the tanks was made a long time ago. In fact, no country in the world routinely announces that it has made orders for military equipment.
Finally, to envision that Cambodia is on the “verge of a ‘Jasmine Spring'” is a fantasy, and to call for or try to lead a ‘Jasmine Spring’ in Cambodia would amount to a provocative act of violence. As everyone knows, the world does not condone, but fully condemns, provocative acts of violence. And those who would call for or encourage “another bloody chapter in Cambodia” would be held fully responsible before the laws of Cambodia.
Koy Kuong is the spokesperson for Cambodia’s undersecretary of state.
Cambodia: sliding toward a ‘jasmine spring’?
Scott Mikalauskis August 31, 2013 1:00 am
Tanks and Sam Rainsy arrived in Cambodia last week. Rainsy arrived from the US, where he was attending his daughter’s wedding and also drumming up support for his Cambodian National Rescue Party’s (CNRP) call for an independent review of Cambodia’s recent elections. Where the tanks arrived from, no one seems to want to say.
Rainsy has long been campaigning against Prime Minister Hun Sen, the longest-sitting leader in Southeast Asia. In public, Hun Sen has railed against the immorality vices such as alcohol and prostitution, and he deliberately carries himself in a manner evocative of a Khmer king. However, much of his political base is made up of the “Lexus-owning class” of Cambodian society: extremely rich elites who have made their fortunes on alcohol, prostitution and other forms of exploitation.
He has important foreign support as well. China, unbeknownst to many in the West, has been gradually and seriously arming Hun Sen’s Cambodia. China has openly given and sold trucks, helicopters and even uniforms to Cambodia, while some tanks and armoured personnel carriers have arrived, via Eastern Europe, from murkier sources. (Through the fog of government evasion, we are meant to think that the personnel carriers are the Ukrainian BMP-1 – but they more closely resemble the nearly identical Chinese WZ-501.) Are these armaments purposed for defence of the frontier or for internal security?
It is no secret that the US is courting countries like the Philippines and Vietnam to establish a bulwark against China’s regional hegemony. China, meanwhile, has been successful in using Cambodia to splinter ASEAN unity over the South China Seas issue. China’s South China Sea objectives are the key to understanding the developments inside Cambodia. Last year, for the first time in its 45-year history, ASEAN failed to put forward a joint communique. This prevented the issuing of a Code of Conduct, a necessary first step in joint negotiations with China over the South China Sea issues. China would much rather settle this matter through a string of bilateral negotiations rather than negotiate with a unified Asean. Cambodia has no claim of its own in the South China Sea, and so Beijing has done much to court Hun Sen.
The CNRP won a spectacular 55 of 123 National Assembly seats in this year’s election, at least. They claim to have won as many as 63, but the elections appear to have been rigged, and a fair recount is being hindered by the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP). Meanwhile, Hun Sen has been deploying his new armaments post-election around the major cities to quell possible opposition demonstrations. Opposition supporters and politicians have been bullied, beat up and marginalised to the point where Cambodia is a powder keg. These armaments could ensure that Hun Sen remains in power, in a Mugabe-esque disregard for democratic process. This is both a reward to Hun Sen for his loyalty to China, and a way of ensuring that the Chinese have in Cambodia a leader they know how to work with.
But there is also an important regional dimension: many of the personnel carriers to have arrived recently are tracked vehicles. In the muddy terrain of Cambodia, wheeled vehicles have always fared poorly, and the military have avoided them since the days of the Khmer Empire. Tracked vehicles in Cambodia are conceivably a threat to neighbours such as Thailand in a way that wheeled vehicles are not. And the current Thai government, goaded by its domestic political opposition, could be lured into an arms race with Cambodia. This would further splinter ASEAN and play into China’s hand.
The US has suspended military cooperation and training exercises, and Australia has done the same in a show of support for Cambodia’s opposition. The biggest danger to China’s plans now, and the best hope for a unified Asean, is the growing opposition movement within Cambodia. We may be on the verge of a “Jasmine Spring”, in which the people of Cambodia demand an end to the crony capitalism and heavy-handed governance that has been stifling economic growth for decades.
We might also be on the verge of another bloody chapter in Cambodia’s history. In a nation where young people increasingly do not know what the Khmer Rouge did, where labour unrest and land seizures are increasingly common, and where wages have remained stagnant, trouble is brewing. Will the ruling party accept a verifiable recount, a growing opposition, and a possible turnout from office in the next election? Or, does a country with such a violent and genocidal history turn into another Egypt, Zimbabwe or Iraq? For a country we have come to love and admire, we hope for the former.
Lawrence Gundersen is a professor of history and political science at the University of Tennessee. Scott Mikalauskis is a graduate student in Southeast Asian Studies in Bangkok.