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Singapore-tinted spectacles give rosy view of Cambodia
Julio A Jeldres
Phnom Penh Post (26 January 2006)
The problem with Verghese Mathews’ assessment of Cambodia in 2005 (Post, December 30, 2005) is that it fails to address the issues confronting Cambodia today and gives too positive an assessment of the Hun Sen-Ranariddh coalition.
This is not surprising coming from a former Ambassador of Singapore, as the island nation is essentially under a one-party rule that tolerates no criticism or dissenting views. The People’s Action Party has ruled the city-state since independence through the Lee family and friends, stamping out all opposition in a meaningful form.
It is said that Hun Sen and Ranariddh have taken inspiration from Singapore to stamp out all opposition in Cambodia by using defamation cases against any one that criticizes the regime.
The big loser is certainly not Sam Rainsy or his SRP party. Indeed the party has been able to function well while his leader has been forced into exile, providing experience to a younger leadership of the party.
The big losers are Cambodia’s institutions:
1) The National Assembly, under Ranariddh’s leadership has become an entity where every decision is taken according to the moods of leaders. It is not the institution that legislates in a multiparty democracy but rather a rubber stamp where legislators are unable to follow their conscience or show principles as they may risk their seats in the National Assembly.
2) The Judiciary has lost all credibility as it is nothing but an instrument of the Prime Minister and the Cambodian People’s Party, manipulated, used and abused to punish peaceful critics of the coalition government. Under such judiciary, it is difficult to believe that the forthcoming Khmer Rouge trial, even with international input, will be held in an impartial environment and without political interference.
3) The Monarchy has been treated with contempt, threatened, used and abused by the political elite for their own political ends. The Royal Family is hopelessly divided, with many members having sided with Hun Sen and Ranariddh in their attempts to bring Cambodia backwards, while the ailing King-Father and other members of the family try to keep it independent from political interference.
In a year of no wins for Cambodia, as far as democracy development is concerned, the big losers are the ordinary citizens of the country, the “little people” whose rights are abused by corrupt officials, land-grabbing military officers and the lack of concern of the political elite.
Julio A Jeldres is a former ambassador to Cambodia. He is now the Chairman of the Khmer Institute of Democracy. He writes from Melbourne, Australia.