Saumura Tioulong: Aristocrat & Activist, East and West, Synergy & Individuality

Saumura Tioulong: Aristocrat & Activist, East and West, Synergy & Individuality

Op-Ed: FNF

Feature 03.04.2019

This author has personally heard Saumura, on more than a few occasions, say this statement or permutations of the same point—“The wife of Sam Rainsy?! I am Saumura.” Indeed, it is but just to refer to her as her own person whose solid credentials and competence in the fields of both politics and economics stand on their own merit. 


She is the daughter of a former prime minister, minister of three portfolios: foreign affairs, finance and education, and governor of Phnom Penh and other provinces; and the wife of the leader of the Cambodian opposition who was also a former finance minister after a successful career in Paris in business and finance. But make no mistake about it, she is her own person.

Saumura Tioulong
(c) Cambodia Daily

At the zenith of its power and glory, the Khmer Empire covered much of today’s Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. More than five hundred years later and after a century of French colonial rule, the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge reduced Cambodia to one of the poorest nations in the world. 

Imperial Khmer…Indochine. The ruins of the magnificent Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and the dilapidated maisons along Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh are monuments of stone to Cambodia’s past—both as conquerors and conquered, both triumphant and tragic. In 1953, Cambodia gained independence from France. Though political turbulence continued, Cambodia in the fifties and the sixties held promise and possibilities. And Saumura’s father was part of that promise. 

Then came the Killing Fields (1975 to 1979) that assaulted Cambodia with the relentless orgies of death and destruction of the infamous and murderous Khmer Rouge. 

Saumura spent her primary education in Phnom Penh, Paris, Tokyo and Moscow; her high school at the Lycee Descartes in Phnom Penh. In 1969, Saumura went to France, her prominent family maintained a home in the center of Paris. She was still in her late teens when she left Cambodia, several years before the Khmer Rouge came to power. She returned only in 1992 with her husband, Rainsy. They have three children. 

In France, she received the best education: a Political Science Diploma from the Institute of Political Science of Paris (1974) and an MBA from the prestigious Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (European Institute of Business Administration) or INSEAD (1980), acknowledged as one of the best business schools in the world, in its main campus in Fontainebleau. 

With her sterling academic qualifications, she entered the world of high finance. Starting as Financial Analyst and Portfolio Manager at Banque Indosuez de Paris (1975- 1983), she became Managing Director of the French branch of Robert Fleming and Company, a Scottish investment bank specializing in securities management (1983-1988). And from 1988 to 1993, she was President and Chief Executive Officer of Mobiliere Conseil, a stock market advisory firm specializing in the Southeast Asian market. 

Her being Asian and a woman were not obstacles not necessarily because the European and the men were open-minded but more so, because she did not allow it to be so. Had she remained in Europe, she would have certainly made more impressive strides in world finance. But Cambodia, her home, beckoned. 

During her long years in France preoccupied with her studies and immersed in the world of finance while raising a family at the same time, Cambodia was always in her mind and heart. She was a member of the royalist FUNCINPEC since its founding in 1981. The Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique et Coopératif (National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia) or FUNCINPEC was founded by King Norodom Sihanouk and his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, led the party to electoral victory in the 1993 elections supervised by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) (Facts and Details, n.d.). Sam Rainsy was one of the FUNCINPEC candidates who won that year’s election and he was later appointed as Minister of Finance. 

Saumura Tioulong
CALD Archives

Saumura became Vice Governor of the Cambodian Central Bank in 1993. She nego- tiated and supervised the implementation of the first International Monetary Fund (IMF) support programs in Cambodia. She left the Central Bank in 1995, the same year Rainsy founded the Khmer Nation Party (KNP), the precursor of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). 

In 1998, she became a member of parliament for the first time, representing Phnom Penh during the second National Assembly of Cambodia. She was one of the 15 SRP stal- warts who became part of 122-member legislature. She was reelected in 2003, one of the 24 SRP legislators in the 123-member third National Assembly of Cambodia. In 2008, she became one of the 26 SRP members in the fourth Cambodian National Assembly. During that year’s general elections, the Human Rights Party (HRP) of Kem Sokha won three seats. 

Saumura Tioulong
CALD Archives

SRP and HRP merged to become the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on 17 July 2012. A CALD press release (18 July 2012) reported that Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha and other leaders of SRP (including Saumura and Mu Sochua) and HRP convened at the CALD Secretariat in Manila to discuss the long-awaited unification of the two parties. After two days of careful deliberations, the two party presidents reached a historic agreement to “unite in accordance with the Khmer people’s will in order to save Cambodia by bringing about political change to put an end to a dictatorship serving destructive foreign interests.” The merger between SRP and HRP aims to directly oppose the dictatorial government that lies at the root of Cambodia’s problems. The ruling CPP recklessly exercises its power in violation of human rights and with- out consideration of national interests. It is this government that has led Rainsy into multiple self-imposed exiles to avoid imprisonment for politically motivated charges. 

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Protecting Kem Sokha and Democracy in Cambodia

Op-Ed: The Geopolitics  

Protecting Kem Sokha and Democracy in Cambodia

Protecting Kem Sokha and Democracy in Cambodia

By Sam Rainsy -March 27, 2019

Under the leadership of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the only opposition party in parliament, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arbitrarily dissolved in 2017 and its leader, Kem Sokha, arrested. This set the scene for rigged elections in July 2018, with all of the seats in the National Assembly being won by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Kem Sokha remains under house arrest, and his period of detention without trial now exceeds the maximum 18 months permitted by Cambodian law. When dealing with the international community, the government makes a half-hearted attempt to get around this 18-month problem by claiming that Kem Sokha has been released on bail. The restrictions on his movement since he was allowed home after spending a year in a remote prison, however, limit him to a few streets around his home.

Hun Sen in a speech to a domestic audience on March 25 clarified the point when he referred to Kem Sokha as being under house arrest. In the same speech, he also clarified, if any clarification was needed, that the justice system is subservient to his dictatorship. “I won’t set you free!” he said in comments aimed at Kem Sokha. “Once the court has convicted you, there won’t be any more problems.”

The reasons for such statements are clear. Kem Sokha, as the prime minister noted, has been urging the 118 leading members of the CNRP who are banned from politics against applying for political “rehabilitation.” The aim of these selective, individual rehabilitations is to divide the CNRP, to cut it into salami slices and to remove its electoral effectiveness. Recall that, despite numerous irregularities, the CNRP officially won close to the half of the votes in both the national election of 2013 and the local commune elections of 2017. Since its creation in 2012, the party has posed a clear threat to the continued domination of the CPP, and its division has been an overriding government priority.

The aim, therefore, is to produce small breakaway groups from the CNRP, which will join the numerous tiny parties which contested the 2018 national election but could not win a single national assembly seat between them. If any of these salami-slice parties one day became large enough to pose a serious threat to the government, they would simply be dissolved at gunpoint and the long, deceitful cycle would start again. The international community, it is hoped, will fail to see through the subterfuge. In fact, selective rehabilitation is a recipe for a series of rigged local and national elections in the years to come, underpinned, as and when needed, by government violence. Hun Sen has also made this clear, by saying that the government must work to “eliminate” the CNRP before Cambodia loses duty-free access to European markets.

The problem with the government’s plan to convict Kem Sokha is that it can’t find any evidence to take to a kangaroo court. The charge of treason that he faces is ludicrous and no credible evidence to support it has been produced at any stage. Any trial would be closely watched by the international community, but would be unable to produce any scrap of proof. The government has also failed to find a way to break the courage and resilience of Kem Sokha himself. Kem Sokha has endured all the threats that the government has made against him, and his continued loss of freedom, in the belief that Cambodians are entitled to a genuine democratic choice, and that the CNRP is capable of giving it to them.

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Japan Should Stop Acting Like China in Cambodia

Japan Should Stop Acting Like China in Cambodia

Tokyo is fighting a losing battle for Hun Sen’s support, and selling its own legacy in the democratization of Cambodia short. Published in The Diplomat

Brad Adams, Asia Director, Teppei Kasai Program Officer, Asia Division

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at the ASEAN Plus Three Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan on October 10, 2013.
  © 2013 Reuters

In a dimly lit ballroom at a Tokyo luxury hotel, Sok Chenda Sophea, the secretary general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia and the minister attached to Prime Minister Hun Sen, persistently asked about 200 Japanese businesspeople to invest in Cambodia.

“Cambodia is not mini-China, come [visit],” Sophea said at the Cambodian Investment Forum on March 5. Sophea’s 30-minute speech mentioned everything from special economic zones to Japanese Overseas Development Assistance.

But Cambodia’s major crackdown on dissent and its ban on the main opposition party before last year’s election were not on his agenda. When questioned by Human Rights Watch about whether the Cambodian government has concrete strategies to ensure rights protections for the Cambodian people amid a growing number of foreign investments and development projects, Sophea dodged the question.

“I’m sorry to say, but we’re in a business seminar,” Sophea said, apparently not concerned that illegal land confiscation for business projects and the abuse of workers are among the country’s biggest rights problems.

Japan has been important to Cambodia, for decades its largest aid donor and one of its largest foreign investors. Now, with China surpassing Japan in both areas, the Japanese government appears willing to throw its principles out the window to compete with China for Hun Sen’s affections.

Given Hun Sen’s dictatorial and violent record, this is a contest that Japan can’t – and shouldn’t want to — win.

Despite Sophea’s denials, in recent years, Hun Sen, who has held power for 34 years, and Chinese President Xi Jinping have been inseparable. They kicked off 2019 by striking a deal involving what Hun Sen described as a Chinese grant of nearly $600 million and a pledge to import 400,000 tons of Cambodian rice. The two agreed on a target of $10 billion in bilateral trade by 2023.

The deal was topped off by smaller investments and loans, including an agreement from China to provide a bodyguard compound for Cambodia’s Council of Ministers. This is very worrisome, given that Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit has long been responsible for bloody attacks on the prime minister’s critics, including an infamous 1997 grenade attack on a political demonstration by the then-leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy.

For Xi Jinping and Hun Sen, it was business as usual. Since the 1998 demise of the Khmer Rouge, which China helped propel to power, leading to the deaths of as many as 2 million Cambodians, China has poured billions of dollars into Cambodia in loans, aid, and investments. By 2010, China became Cambodia’s largest foreign donor, though much of its aid is in loans that Cambodia may never be able to repay. In 2018, China accounted for nearly half of Cambodia’s $6 billion foreign debt.

Presiding over a one-party state at home, the Chinese government doesn’t have to consider public opinion when supporting dictatorships or account for the expenditure of its funds. It can bribe officials with impunity. Things are different in Japan.  

This has left Japan in a bind. Despite the worsening climate for human rights in Cambodia, Japan still shies away from open and clear criticism, while continuing to provide large amounts of aid and staging high-level visits, all to charm the deeply unpopular Hun Sen.

But Japan is fighting a losing battle for Hun Sen’s support. Japan can’t outspend China or deliver sweetheart contracts to Cambodia, yet its overt and clumsy attempts to ingratiate itself have led to a backlash among Cambodian activists, who see Tokyo selling out democracy and human rights to maintain a friendship with a dictator. Activists see this “values free” Japanese diplomacy contributing to the seemingly irreversible decline of democratic values in Cambodia.

That became increasingly apparent in the lead-up to the July 2018 Cambodian national elections. Fearing defeat, the government dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), kicked out its members of parliament, and imposed a five-year political ban on 118 of its senior members. Hun Sen also cracked down on independent media outlets, journalists, and independent organizations promoting the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.

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Democratic Hopes in ASEAN Hinge on Thailand, Analysts Say

Democratic Hopes in ASEAN Hinge on Thailand, Analysts Say

25 March 2019

A child plays a toy guitar during a rally ahead of a general election in Bangkok, March 22, 2019. The nation's first general election since the military seized power in a 2014 coup is scheduled to be held March 24.
A child plays a toy guitar during a rally ahead of a general election in Bangkok, March 22, 2019. The nation’s first general election since the military seized power in a 2014 coup is scheduled to be held March 24.


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.

ការបោះឆ្នោត​ក្នុង​ប្រទេសថៃ​នៅ​ថ្ងៃអាទិត្យ​ខាងមុខ​ ត្រូវ​គេរំពឹងថា​នឹង​មាន​ចំនួន​មនុស្ស​ចេញ​ទៅ​បោះឆ្នោត​ច្រើន​នៅភាគខាងត្បូងប្រទេស ដែលទីនោះគឺជាកន្លែង​ប្រឆាំង​នឹង​យោធា​នៅក្នុងតំបន់។ ប៉ុន្តែក្រុមអ្នកបោះឆ្នោត​និង​ក្រុមប្រឆាំង​ព្រួយបារម្ភ​ថា ​ការបង្រ្កាប​ដោយ​រដ្ឋាភិបាល​ទៅលើសំឡេងប្រឆាំងនឹងធ្វើឲ្យពួកយោធាគ្រប់គ្រង​ ប្រទេសមួយអាណត្តិទៀត។

Prayut, now seeking the premiership, has said that if he wins, voters would be returning his junta-led country to a “democracy.”

Prayut Chan-ocha of the Palang Pracharat Party receives flowers from supporters during an election campaign rally in Bangkok, Thailand, March 22, 2019.
Prayut Chan-ocha of the Palang Pracharat Party receives flowers from supporters during an election campaign rally in Bangkok, Thailand, March 22, 2019.

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.

Myanmar’s experience

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.

Sudarat Keyuraphan, leader of the Pheu Thai Party and a candidate for prime minister, second right, and contestants wave during a rally ahead of general elections in Bangkok, Thailand, March 22, 2019.
Sudarat Keyuraphan, leader of the Pheu Thai Party and a candidate for prime minister, second right, and contestants wave during a rally ahead of general elections in Bangkok, Thailand, March 22, 2019.

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.

Bright spot

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.

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