The International Leviathan of Cambodia in Political Leadership

Posted by: | Posted on: January 2, 2014


Last 27 December 2014, Cambodian people were astonished to see and hear Prime Minister Hun Sen talked in Vietnamese to the professional audience of Vietnam during his visit in Vietnam by the invitation of Vietnamese leader in Hanoi. This is first time that Cambodian people see their leader used foreign language to communicate with people in country he is visiting. By international protocol, he is unprofessional to speak country-host’s language and the meaning of his speech tended to pay unusual gratitude about the past political crisis Vietnam involved in the post-cold war politics in Cambodia. The fact of the story is still very murky on the legitimate action of Vietnam over Cambodia, that murkiness prohibits a top leader from an independent country to pay direct gratitude to another country, beside of respecting and paying gratitude to their own citizens.

His Vietnamese phonology has actually triggered obscure mixture of feeling of Cambodian people. Vietnam has been seen for historical enmity with Cambodian people through their domination policy named Southward and Westward expansion. The feeling of enmity is also caused by historical encroachments on the Cambodian lands such as Prey Nokor and Kampuchea Krom, the current human rights scheme towards the Khmer Kampuchea Krom or Khmer ethnic population in Southern part, and the close yet skeptical relationship with incumbent Cambodian government whom Vietnam installed to power during its political scheme to attack Khmer Rough in 7 January 1979.

Why International Leviathan? 

Annamite Henri Mohout

Henri Mohout

The international leviathan here driven by the concept of political Leviathan of Thomas Hobbs. Vietnam is considered the Leviathan by Cambodians and many Khmer leaders. Those called Vietnamese leadership in different names such as crocodile, giant or imperialist. During the visit of naturalist Henri Mouhot in Cambodian capital city of Udong during 1859, he mentioned there were many servants from Annamites region whose behavior was different from other mainstream savages. For David Chandler, the records illustrated the Vietnamese imperial(s) looked down on Khmer citizens by stereotyped them as wild, uncivilized and uneducated. During the post-cold war, Vietnam equipped with strong ambition to expand Southward and Westward. It is Vietnamese’s pride to be able to tame Cham leadership and to subjugate this Kingdom eventually. By defeating the French colony at Dien Bien Phu, the pride of nationalism and expansionism embedded strongly in the mindset of their warriors. Although, there were rift and great division between North and South, the aura of marriage between China and Russia to back Vietnam in confronting with the US; Vietnam received sufficient surplus to unify North and South (former Khmer land) and further looked into the West to maintain the legacy of expansionism, the success and the mindset of imperial leadership. Dream of Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, is to influence over Laos and Cambodia (former member states of Indochina Federation of French) in hope to take over, to control and to build base for the spreading of communism in this Southeast Asian peninsula. And the by-product from this ideology spreading is able to maintain “the legacy of expansionism” at the same time.

“All the palaces and pagodas which you see from here have been built in one year since my return from Siam: in another year all will be finished. Formerly Cambodia was very extensive; but the Annamites have deprived us of many province.”

“Sir, the time has arrived for you to retake them. The French are assailing them on one side; do you attack them on the other.” His Majesty did not reply, but offered me a cigar, and inquired my age.

“I am twenty-three,” he said to me. “I recognize you; you were at Siam with M. de Montigny.”

“No, sir; your Majesty is mistaken. I have only been in Siam a twelvemonth.”

By Henri Mouhot “Travel in Siam, Cambodia, Laos, and Annam”, White Lotus Press, page 149, printed in 2000


The inconvenient state visit: inconvenient host vs inconvenient visitor

Personally, I am so surprised to hear and see his leadership at the international stage especially in Vietnam. His Vietnamese language is not that bad and some facebookers said he can speak Hanoi accent very fluently. Accent of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city is very different from each other. Some friends told me that it is like Thai and Lao accent. If it is true, I think it is very different and very much in the domination of language users. But his showing ability and official visiting is very idiosyncratic as his home country is having problems particularly the problems of people power demonstrating about the vast fraud of national election, to request for the re-election, and to request him to step down from power in order to ensure democracy development. Many assumptions are thought, but these two things are most considerable:

1. His visiting to Vietnam during this tension is nothing else but to ask his closest friend to help him to get away from this tension.
2. His visiting to Vietnam during this contesting result of election is to introduce his new cabinets to his main supporter for the recognition in the international stage while the government under his leadership is seen as illegitimate or single party assembly contradictory to the national constitution. I think Vietnam will try to persuade other Asian countries, Japan and the US to recognize the single party government or single parliamentary establishment. But it shall be in vain as there are many points that both international standard of democracy as well as the national constitution of Cambodia cannot parallel with the demand of the government-led party.
Hence, as the CNRP’s focus is the election irregularities and their mean of pretest is peaceful, ahimsa and non-violence; it will pose a difficulty to the idea of Hun Sen government abolition and it will not happen any time sooner, but we cannot predict it in a long run. However, Hun Sen and his teams might not be able to close eyes and ears as increasing numbers of people are walking into the street bravely in a daily basis. The people power organized by the CNRP could not be overestimated because this party has planted their members in the grassroots level entire the country about two decades ago. Their initial campaign in the city (or main cities), plus the participating by the garment workers, and/or urban dwellers, and/or students and teachers, and/or civil servants, and/or oversea Cambodians etc. is likely just the first test. They have full potential to wake people up throughout the country, it is just time that they have not yet ignited this silent wave of Tsunami fully.
For the peaceful people power (PPP), the CNRP has full potential and as evidence, it has gained momentum from day to day. We can say, if we can compare to other countries, the People Power of Peaceful Demonstration currently organized by the CNRP in Cambodia, has lasted longer and stronger in a daily basis. It has apparently become a good model for Asean countries after the success of Mahatma Ghandi in India and Martin Luther King in America. It is remarkable, empathetic and realistic!
But glancing at the CPP, this party has not built its strength in one month or one year. This party has been established since the 7 January 1979 under the full patronizing of Vietnam for all fields especially military capability, political mechanism and leadership, and economy. While the UNs helped organize the election in 1993 and built a multiple parties political system in this country, but until now no one can reject the existing strength of military, political structure and wealth of this party. There are some external challengers to this party but those are eventually disappeared particularly the Funcipec Party. There are some internal fractures of this party, but until now we don’t see a single member/individual dare to stand up and criticize the wrongdoing of this party at all.
Hence, today this party is facing a real challenge: is the well-organized Peaceful People Power and the new energetic emergence of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The national election result declared by the National Election Committee (NEC) of the 28 July 2013 national election has been found vast irregularities and fraud, the international communities and the domestic population, both are obstacle to the leadership legitimacy of CPP under the Hun Sen’s 30 years Premiership. And if the CPP is still playing hard line politics in responding to the demand of the CNRP, the internal fracture will probably burst into a flame of volcano and it can smash this giant mountain into ashes. The probability of the future is predictable!

The Challenge of the International Leviathan

Now, the policy of Southward reaching is deems successful but the Westward reaching is deems uncertain. The high respect and expression of esteem on the Vietnamese soldiers who helped wage war in Cambodia especially to change the course of Khmer Rough leadership, absolutely provide incredible value and pride of Vietnamese warriors and people viewers nationwide. The thought of hope from those viewers will give much credits to their incumbent leadership in which many Vietnamese are believed to against them by seeing their communist approach has been deteriorating their life of dignity. And this stage also tells us the failure of the primary attempt to install lasting denomination within this country. The cause of failure arises from both international change of geo-strategy, democracy of poeple-oriented power and demography.

Dr. Lao Mong Hay

Courtesy: Dr. Lao Mong Hay, Cambodia Academic Network (CAN)

According to sampling of Dr. Lao Mong Hay, Cambodia is factually under the power thirst from China, US (its allies) and Vietnam. It is interesting that previous Vietnam’s policy especially before the Khmer Rouge, it was only Vietnam and US. But after China discomforted with Vietnamese invasion over Cambodia, Vietnam tends to compromise with China in the same time associating with US and Russia. In the regional ASEAN, this new emergent regional body tends to recognize strength of each country more than illegal Indo-China Federation mindset.

However, locally speaking, Vietnam has exercised full leverage within Cambodia land under its installing bureaucrats. Hun Sen leadership and his party is well known for the not-home-made political organization. Without Vietnam, this party cannot last today. There are undeniable evidences indicating Vietnamese leadership has explicitly helped and exploited this party. For instance, the creation of two prime ministers during the UNs-sponsored election in 1993 and the coup detat in 1997 was seen backed by Vietnam; and for the additional supplemental border treaty in 2005 was seen Vietnam exploited their former friend. All these facts have made China and US headache a lot. But it is not safe for Cambodia as well while China and US is likely unsure on their fraternal relationship as well.

What shall Cambodians do next?

Khmer proverb reminds us that “unity is power”, and Khmer Buddhists remember clearly on the teaching that: “no one save us, we are our own savior”. Locally speaking, the election on the July 28, 2013 triggered huge optimism for Cambodia to be saved by its own Cambodian people. By individuals, Cambodian youths are representing 60% of the total population. Those youths are not entrapped by past trauma or political submission, or they are not easily manipulated by mainstream media such as TVs, Radios or print media. They are grown up in the age of mobile phone, iPhone, iPad, Tablet and facebook. Their new findings on those new media provide them sufficient tool to confront with all manipulative agenda. The effort of the UNs in building Cambodia institutions such as Monarchy, Assembly, Judiciary and Executive with the control of arm-force branch, has resulted in hopelessness for Cambodian people. But the effort of the UNs in helping to create national constitution has been helpful in continuing interpretation to end all unconstitutional political behaviors.

Thus, the new occurrance of mushrooming capable youths, NGOs and political party particularly CNRP, provide us a lot space and hope, if this party is not negligent in its principles, to overcome all the International Leviathan(s).

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