Lessons from Cambodia

Jufri Salim

We went to a street in Phnom Penh where 50,000 to 80,000 supporters of the main opposition party, Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) flooded the venue, braving a scorching 35 degree celcius to support their candidates led by Kem Sokha.

The support was overwhelming and the atmosphere made me shed a tear as I reminisced both 2011 and 2015 General Elections and the 2016 Bukit Batok By-Election where I was heavily involved with the campaign and led the Stage Management team at the nights of the rally and that feeling of butterflies in my stomach at the rally in Phnom Penh was evident.

I was in Cambodia attending a CALD (Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats) workshop on ‘Dealing with the Media’ with my party colleagues Matthew Tan and Janis Zhang.

With a voter turnout of nearly 90% accounting for a near 8 million voters, CNRP managed to garner 46% of votes while the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen hit home at 51%.

But missing from this Commune Elections is popular opposition leader Sam Rainsy who was forced to leave the country and retire from Cambodian politics after several criminal defamation suits were filed against him.

The CPP government is no stranger to violent politics. Through the years Hun Sen has overthrown elected government officials and murdered those who opposed him. Despite this, however, Cambodians were not cowed; hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the street in this election to openly show their support to parties and leaders challenging the CPP.

Maybe one day we in Singapore can get to experience the same unity and pick up the courage to be on the streets with our fellow Singaporeans showing our support and solidarity to an alternative party like SDP that will represent the voice of the people in parliament.

As eye-opening as the election activities were, the focus of our visit was the workshop on the media. A diverse group participants from Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mongolia, Cambodia and Singapore took part in discussions on how to use the social media effectively and responsibly especially with the trend of fake and distorted news growing.

Fake news is not a new thing because since the late 1800s, it was used to deliberately spread misinformation or hoaxes via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.

Fake news started out with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically, often with the use of exaggerated and false headlines that grab attention to mislead the naive.

But we need to come together to counter this with the truth and to do this is to question the legitimacy of the news and find out from relevant sources instead of sharing it blindly on social media.

The solution, however, is not to come up with more rules to crack down on social media as the PAP is presently doing. The best way forward is to empower truth-tellers by calling out the lies through a free, open and responsible press.

Whether it’s Cambodia or the other countries in the region that have come through years under dictatorial rule, the one thing that I learned from this trip is that nothing is impossible if we keep on trying.

This is what we want to achieve at SDP – to speak truth to power and uphold the principles that this party has embraced over the years; persevering through struggles and unpropitious circumstances to speak up for Singaporeans.

Jufri Salim is a member of SDP’s CEC and the Young Democrats.