CAMBODIA: The wave of young people can change the country’s future

by Phiev Tong Him

Since July 28, 2013 general election, politics in Cambodia has become a sensitive topic discussed by Cambodians whether in a group of two, ten, or twenty. This is a new trend. People now feel very concerned about Cambodia’s future as they watch the destruction of rain forests, the land grabbing, human rights violations, among other things. Mrs. Mu Sochua said recently to look at how things are changing – workers are seeking high wage, grassroots and youth movements for change are emerging, people are using social media, monks are building network to preserve Buddhist values.

In the past three decades, young people paid no attention to developments in society. They didn’t realize their importance. Now that things have changed a lot, they get actively involved in societal/community activities and began to love their environment and the people. Through technology and social media outlets – Facebook, blogs, radios and twitters – people are conscious about young people’s role in making Cambodia democratic and respecting human rights. It is their duty and responsibility. More, Cambodian elders who send their sons and daughters to study in universities are in turn influenced by their new ideas.

Now the word “change” is constantly on people’s lips. The opposition party introduced it during the July 2013 election campaign.

Looking back to the past history

Cambodia was a French colony from 1863 to 1953 under the reigns of Ang Doung, Norodom, Sisowath and Norodom Sihanouk. It took 90 years to free Cambodia from French rule. Generally, young Cambodians did not join the Khmer Issarak liberation movement; only a handful of people participated actively in freeing Cambodia from France. During Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s crusade for independence, young people, males and females, were called to join hands to pressure the French to leave the country. The participation of the young people is necessary to bring change to society.

Recall China under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung who led the Cultural Revolution by inspiring young Chinese’s participation to develop the country from planned to free market economy.

Cambodia has experienced many regimes – under Lon Nol, the Khmer Rouge, the Republic of Cambodia and the State of Cambodia. These regimes needed the participation of the young people to survive.

The Arab spring in Libya and Tunisia was started by the unemployed young people. The social change they spearheaded ended with a social movement that toppled the government. In Cambodia, the ruling party is scared the young people use free expression and exercise their rights to fight for democracy starting with a higher minimum wage for garment workers. A small flame can set fire in the whole country like the Arab Spring did.

CPP Heng Samrin, Chea Sim and Hun Sen – one of them is strategic

In power for 30 years, Prime Minister Hun Sen, an appointed leader, sent his sons to foreign schools in Australia, France, England and the United States. He is a strategic person. He envisioned his sons to succeed him after he will step down or die. And he wanted to use the young people for Cambodia’s future. But reality is his nightmare. Cambodia is a multi-party state that holds national election in every five years. The old Cambodia he knew is no more.

When his sons returned, they engaged in activities related to the ruling party’s youth movements, the Federal Union of Cambodian Youth led by Hun Many, the Association of Pagoda Children, and the Cambodian Red Cross volunteers, which they lead against the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s youth movement. They also work with the grass-root youths and in the military. Mr. OU Virak said recently he felt generally optimistic about Cambodia’s future. But because of the lack of independence in key institutions (the courts, the military, the police, the National Bank), instability is built into the state system. I do hope the CPP and the CNRP look into institutional building, debate on policies and reforms, and put people before politics.

Today, the wave of young generation is divided into two sides: CPP and CNRP. I think this wave of young people represents the momentum to change the country to the better. Late last year, the CNRP held several mass street demonstrations calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down. I was there. I saw many people from Phnom Penh and the provinces. Some sold their dogs to travel to Phnom Penh. Needless to say, this was a strong wind blowing to the West, not the East anymore, with the participation of young people including garment workers. As this wave picked up strength, the government closed down the democracy park used by the CNRP to voice their concerns.

Influence of modern technology on young people, Facebook

In democratic countries, mass media is the fourth power in the government that people use to air their grievances and concerns. The social network is very effective in providing information on specific topics. In Communist countries, the mass media is the enemy of the government; the people are not allowed to get information from them. Social media plays a very important role in social change. The government’s recent request to Facebook for account user names revealed the government’s eagerness to find those who attack the regime.

Truth cannot be hidden anymore

Today’s Cambodians are politically minded. They pay attention to the young generation because they see the government ruin the country through illegal logging, 99-year land concession to foreign companies, drug and human trafficking, timber business by high ranking officials. The people feel that sooner or later the country is reverting to year zero like under the Khmer rouge. The country must be saved.

Unfortunately, Boun Chan Mol’s Charet Khmer, or Khmer personality trait, ingrained in Khmers for generations lead some to believe whatever the ruling CPP does is always wrong, or whatever the opposition CNRP does is always right. If they believe in a person, they would do anything for him/her. But if they don’t, they would look to bury him/her. We need to move beyond this.

I see the young people as keys to societal change in all regimes. A leadership without the support of the young people, the country’s main labor force, cannot endure. Today’s society is as bad as that under the Khmer rouge. Some young people are intoxicated by a society that gives them drinking places and KTVs for enjoyment; they cannot think of the country’s future. It’s necessary that the young people wake up and rebuild the country destroyed by human rights violations, deforestation, natural resources destruction…

Buddha teaches that no one helps us but we ourselves. The teaching should inspire us to do something for the country, to keep it and its people safe and progressive. If not, the people and the country will die.

About the author:

Phiev Tong Him, M.A. in sociology and anthropology from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, a state school teacher of English and an English academic manager of a Phnom Penh leading private school, aspires to enter Khmer politics. He can be reached at

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-058-2014
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Arbitrary arrest & detention, Impunity,