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

As we are only days away from the New Year of 2014, I find it apt and beneficial to end the year of 2013 with this article.

Someone more philosophical than I wrote that today is yesterday’s future. In the days, weeks, months, and years past we imagined the kind of tomorrow we would like to see. Some act to bring about the futures about which they dream. Others dream and drift, leaving their futures entirely to others or to chance. We are the product of our thoughts and imaginations and of our actions or inaction.

Yet, this thought-action process is not new, having been advocated – as regular readers of this column know – by Lord Gautama Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. “Each morning we are born again,” says Buddha, “What we do today is what matters most.” Telling us to concentrate our mind on the present moment, the here and now, Buddha who says, “I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done,” also teaches us: “Pay no attention to the faults of others, things done or left undone by others. Consider only what by oneself is done or left undone.” Urging us to “rely on the essence of your pure Wisdom Mind, not on judgmental perceptions,” Buddha emphasizes, “after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

“All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world,” Buddha teaches. “I do not believe in a fate that falls on men (and women) however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.” In his preaching, he reminds us, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

Buddha’s words affirm his belief that we are responsible for what we do or do not do. His teaching to do all good, to avoid evil, and to purify the mind, runs parallel with his philosophy: Think, act, and become.

I have written often in this space about the need for Cambodians to build their future by urgently and firmly adopting as their guiding principles and values their (as most Cambodians are Buddhist) Lord Buddha’s teaching. As they act to achieve their long term goals, implement short term objectives; make use of the time at the present to educate, cultivate, and create many thousands of new leaders at local and national levels with nation-building skills and capacities.

Perceptions of problems and solutions

Many Cambodian democrats fear Srok Khmer sarb-sone (Khmer country’s disappearance) if “millions” of Vietnamese immigrants are allowed by the puppet regime in Phnom Penh, heavily influenced by neighboring Vietnam, to illegally cross the border and settle in Cambodia; if Thailand is permitted to encroach from the west; and if Hun Sen and members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) continue to rob the country of its natural wealth, evict citizens from their homes and land, deny Cambodians’ human rights, freedom, and justice, among others.

One proposed solution by those who subscribe to the idea of sarb-sone is the suggestion that the 18 signatory governments and the United Nations implement the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements (PPA) as had been intended, conforming to the stipulations therein to restore human rights, build democratic pluralism, etc. To the present day, no government has taken the lead to ensure proper implementation of the PPA. Foreign governments continue to do business as usual with a regime condemned by democrats; some governments have even upgraded their relationships with the Hun Sen government.

I must admit to being not well considered by some when I first decided at the end of 1989 to leave the Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces after the visit of a UN military delegation to the KPNLAF zone. I concluded that the movement would be left at the mercy of the CPP; and in 1993 I wrote an article about the UN-supervised election as being neither free nor fair, stating that participation by an opposition would only legitimize a CPP victory through irregularities. Twenty years later, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) cries election fraud.

I am in full sympathy with the CNRP over the outcome of last July’s national election. I cannot know the scale of the election fraud and other irregularities. News, photos and videos, and communications with Cambodians in Phnom Penh and elsewhere confirm that the country is in turmoil; that hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, if not more, have openly expressed anger at the official outcome. I never expected Hun Sen and the CPP to agree to any election probe committee. I admit to losing some Cambodian democrat friends for writing that the CNRP should not allow its rightful seats in the National Assembly to remain vacant because of the ruling party’s fraud; that the assembly can be a powerful forum to push for change despite the ruling party’s resistance, to alert both national and international opinion on what the opposition does and wants, and to gather more serious attention and support. Until Hun Sen and the CPP will be shown the door in 2018, all efforts should be devoted to leadership development and nation-building. Alas.

Calling on Premier Hun Sen to step down

The CNRP objected to the official election results that gave the CPP 68 National Assembly seats, a loss of 24 seats from 92, and the CNRP 55 seats, an increase from 29. It accused Hun Sen and the CPP of fraud and irregularities and demanded an independent probe committee, or it would boycott the National Assembly. Attempts at negotiation failed; a political deadlock ensued. Since then, Hun Sen and the CPP govern even with the National Assembly half empty and choose to see nothing, hear nothing, and know nothing of what the opposition proposed.

Several large and impressive mass demonstrations have occurred nonviolently so far, although a passerby and a street vendor were killed by police using live bullets. The CNRP held a mass demonstration in Phnom Penh and one in Siemreap on Human Rights Day. The CNRP promised a larger rally on Dec 15 to demand an investigation of election fraud, and one every Sunday after until the election dispute is resolved. One wonders if this endless Ramvong circle dance, in which participants go round and round but always find themselves in the same place, isn’t a most apt descriptor of the cycle of CNRP demonstrations, which seem to have become an end in themselves, rather than a tactic in a larger strategy to gain ground in preparation for greater success in the next election cycle.

One more notable change: Vocal and more aggressive young and old-age protesters are now calling publicly on Premier Hun Sen to step down from power, and CNRP leaders are calling for a new election. Hun Sen and the CPP must contemplate political suicide to agree to a new election. CNRP leaders who feel the pulse of the citizens’ impatience with the deadlock, seemingly have decided to go for broke to force a new election or the abdication of the current government in the face of overwhelming protest. The Voice of America has broadcast in Khmer CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha’s pronouncement on Dec 16 that the opposition gives the government “three months” – until the end of March – to hold a new election or it will lead a “people power” movement hoping to topple the regime in power. “I cannot stop people’s anger if the government cannot find them justice,” Sokha said in a broadcast by the VOA.

In her website on Dec 17, MP-elect Mu Sochua, CNRP head of public affairs wrote that today’s youth “want rapid change, the Arab Spring.”

“My Real Fear”

Upon the publication of my last article “The future awaits,” a former electrical engineering student in Illinois, Chou Leang Hak, e-mailed me and some senior opposition leaders a short article about what “future awaits” the Khmer people.  He also submitted the article to the Phnom Penh Post.

Hak described his “real fear in the near future that awaits the Khmers,” that “strong man Hun Sen … not beautiful but bad,”  who is engaged in “ill activities” destructive of Khmer land and its people, nevertheless fears “the great protests in the days ahead,” and is firmly committed to holding on to  government power at all costs. “In silence, I am contemplating with fear what may transpire in the days and months ahead in our homeland, as Hun Sen and his government will go the extra miles to harm or even kill those who try to pull them down,” Hak wrote. “A cornered tiger will fiercely attack no matter what. Tears of citizens will continue to flow because of bad leaders.”

In the final analysis

The CNRP is now presumably engaged in its stated undertaking of nonstop nonviolent demonstrations intended to force a new election and the resignation of the current prime minister Hun Sen. Leaving aside the obvious question of whether large-scale demonstrations can be mounted on a continuous basis over time, the demonstrations will only be effective if Hun Sen is compelled to concede that it is in his own interest to negotiate a resolution. In the meantime, the CNRP seems to be setting up a circumstance in which violence is ever more likely to occur. Demonstrators’ emotions can be controlled at a fever pitch only so long. Armed security forces, feeling threatened, may react. In this case, Chou Leang Hak’s fear is more than realistic.

On the other hand, the CNRP may park at Freedom Park as long as it desires if its presence produces no consequence that hurts Hun Sen and the CPP.

Cambodian democrats should stop thinking about intervention by democratic governments that want to invest in Cambodia. Here, Lord Buddha was right: “Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.” This brings me back to where I began this article, Buddha’s teaching: “The mind is everything. What we think we become . . . With our thoughts we make the world.”

I wish my readers of all faiths good health and much happiness in this season of celebration and new beginnings. May each of us include among our resolutions a commitment to be deeply thoughtful and act with purpose.


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-041-2013
Countries : Cambodia
Date : 20-12-2013