Contributors: Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth
An article by Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Happy Khmer New Year of Chnam M’sanh, Year of the Snake, Buddhist Era 2557 (April 14, 2013), to Khmer compatriots in and outside CAMBODIA! May Buddhist Khmers follow their Lord Gautama Buddha’s teaching that “Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most”; and that, “There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it.”

He counsels us to distinguish between what we have done and what remains for us do, and to center our mind on the present, the here and now, to build the morrows of our dreams, for we are masters of our destiny. Think, act, and become, that’s how fate is made, Buddha teaches.

“It ain’t over” yet
Until last month, the Government of Prime Minister Hun Sen was adamant in its refusal to release 72-year-old Mam Sonando, owner of CAMBODIA’s independent Beehive Radio station. Sonando has been accused of “secessionism” – insurrection and incitement to take up arms against the state.

Sonando was arrested in July 2012 as Hun Sen’s security forces attacked and evicted several hundred villagers from Broma in Kratie province who protested for months over a land dispute with a Russian-owned rubber plantation. The government forces shot and killed a 14-year-old girl, Heng Chantha. Three months later, in October, Sonando was convicted for his actions in support of the villagers’ protests and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Persistent demands by Cambodians and by the international community, including President Obama and French Prime Minister Ayrault, have not caused the Cambodian government of Hun Sen to alter its position in this matter. Rather, government representatives have decried what they describe as inappropriate interference in the Cambodian system of justice.

It has been my view that Hun Sen, a shrewd politician, would come to see the personal benefit of releasing Sonando. I’ve observed in recent articles that Hun Sen has metaphorically used the popular Khmer circle dance, the Ramvong, to keep Cambodians and foreigners guessing as he has formulated his decision.

Sure enough, on March 15, Mam Sonando walked out of Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison. CAMBODIA’s Court of Appeal decided there was “no evidence” to support the charges against him and the Court ordered his release.

“I am happy that I have been released, but I am also sad because I didn’t commit any crime. The court convicted me of a crime that I never could have conceived of,” Sonando told Radio Free ASIA.

He is out of jail, but he is not a free man. Some less serious charges (such as “illegal logging”) still hang over him.

Cambodian activists cheered Sonando’s “victory,” and Sonando vowed, “I will educate the people about their rights, the law, and democracy so that voters will be better informed.”

But Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party gained something from the release. “I will not establish any political party and I will not become involved in politics,” declared Sonando. The Prime Minister, eager to secure his own political future, obtained a useful quid pro quo for permitting this prisoner’s release. Still, “It ain’t over” yet.

Sam Rainsy
Main opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, 65, President of the coalition Cambodian National Rescue Party, is in self-imposed exile in France to avoid a 12-year-prison term in CAMBODIA which most observers agree is politically motivated.

With CAMBODIA’s forthcoming general election three months away – to be held on July 28 – Sam Rainsy’s absence from the election campaign due to concerns for his own safety undermines the very foundation of the $3 billion Peace Plan brokered under the auspices of the United Nations in 1991 to end 20 years of war, restore human rights, and establish democracy in CAMBODIA.

The regime says Sam Rainsy is free to return any time, but he will have to answer to CAMBODIA’s law.

Sam Rainsy has said repeatedly that he would return to CAMBODIA for the election. But Hun Sen’s intransigent stand has caused Sam Rainsy to be cautious about returning. Nevertheless, Rainsy continues to assert that an election in which he is not able to compete will de-legitimize the regime – no doubt headed by Hun Sen – that will result. Perhaps overstating the case, Sam Rainsy and his followers insist that any such regime would lack international standing, an assertion that is more hopeful than probable.

In fact, the legitimacy of the Hun Sen regime has been in question since its inception in 1993. He lost the 1993 UN-supervised free and fair election but threatened war unless he was made “Second Prime Minister.” In 1997 he launched a coup d’etat against the election winner, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and seized complete power. Has the community of nations not been dealing with this illegitimate regime until today?

A scenario
Based on his past behavior, one can expect Hun Sen will maintain an unyielding position vis a vis Sam Rainsy’s return — until he has made the behind-the-scenes arrangements that minimize his own political risks. At that point he will extol the independence of the Cambodian judicial process as it acts to permit Rainsy’s return. For his part, Rainsy has been susceptible to deal-making in the past and can be expected to agree to conditions that will allow him to return to CAMBODIA and take part in the electoral process, even at the last moment.

I turn again to the optimistic hotel owner in a recent movie, who eloquently noted: “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end,” Hun Sen may be rewarded with legitimacy by a Sam Rainsy who accepts a last minute deal, even as Hun Sen insures that the election will return him to power.

Hun Sen is worried
Hun Sen has been worried. Early last month, he started his Ayai, vowing to stop all development projects, destroy all existing projects, even end the Bonn Kathen Buddhist festival, etc., if, come July 28, the people won’t vote for the CPP. Late last month, he told 10,000 villagers in Kandal province, even the CPP’s land-titling scheme will be terminated, and, “I ask for only one vote each”!

Democrats must abandon personality politics game and give their all to convince the Cambodian people they have a choice on July 28 to vote for the status quo, or to vote for change as presented by specific policies advocated by the CNRP.

True choice of government 
My article last month shared the seven-point program that the CNRP government promises the voters. Their proposals are supportive of the common good, in my view. Though they could not be implemented quickly, progress on these goals would significantly alter the political culture, a good thing in and of itself. I am a democrat. I have no affiliation with any Cambodian political party, or the CNRP. My dislike for a regime that violates citizens’ rights and steals the nation’s wealth for its members’ personal enrichment is publicly known. The current political leaders comprise such a regime.

The CNRP’s seven points are reiterated below (translation from the Khmer is mine):
An individual 65 years of age and older would receive monthly assistance of 40,000 riels
A worker’s minimum monthly wage would be 600,000 riels
A functionary’s minimum monthly salary would be one million riels
A farmer would be guaranteed to receive at least 1,000 riels per kilogram of rice
Poor people would receive free medical care
Youths would receive equal education opportunity and proper employment
The prices of oil, fertilizer, electricity and the interest rate on loans would be reduced

Cambodians in Phnom Penh not affiliated with any political party told me they see the CNRP’s program as “pragmatic and feasible.” CNRP materials explain in some detail how the CNRP intends to meet the obligations it has pledged to fund.

Currently, CAMBODIA is entirely reliant on foreign aid to fund its national budget. For its part, the CNRP has asserted that domestic revenue is available to support the budget from existing sources that currently are diverted for the private gain of members of the Hun Sen regime and its cronies, including taxes and customs, tourism and gaming, and the sale of CAMBODIA’s natural resources. While I am in no position to validate the specifics of the CNRP’s budget assertions, I am heartened by the CNRP’s forthright commitment to reduce corruption and restore the focus of government on the welfare of its citizens. This was the goal of the 1991 Peace Accords. Implementation of such a program of action is long overdue.


The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own

About the Author:

Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. He currently lives in the United States. He can be reached at


Document ID :AHRC-ETC-017-2013
Countries : Cambodia
Date : 15-04-2013