Cambodia’s Opposition Getting More Sticks and no Carrots


Partyforumseasia: Samdech Akeak Moha Sena Padey Techo Hun Sen ( or Lord Prime Minister, Supreme Military Commander Hun Sen in English) in office (or better in power) since 1985, is one of the longest serving leaders in Southeast Asia and the hun-senworld. It would be an understatement to say that he is dominating Cambodia’s political scene for more than thirty years. His control of the country is quasi total, but maybe not so easy to maintain. The autocrat par excellence is being challenged by the the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which is popular with the younger generation and all those who are victimized by the regimes repression. Huge parts of Cambodian land have been given away as long term concessions without much concern for the people living there and losing their livelihood. While the regime’s cronies and the bureaucracy flaunt their affluence shamelessly with grandiose villas and “Lexus” in big characters on the sides of their SUVs, the majority is struggling and the cheap workforce is being exploited with difficult working conditions and insufficient salaries.
The CNRP, under the leadership of former finance minister Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha has managed to organize the party nation wide by addressing the problems of the people and the shortcomings of the status quo, thus being perceived as a threat not only to the existing Hun Sen regime  but also to the Prime Minister’s obvious plans to install his eldest son, Hun Manet, as heir apparent.

The Prime Minister’s defense-strategy, in tune with his adventurous biography from Khmer Rouge commander via exile in Vietnam and a cunning march to the top, is anything but gentle. His thugs have intimidated and manhandled opposition politicians and supporters again and again, but following a Southeast Asian pattern, he is also making use of a judicial facade to neutralize the opposition. The CNRP-leaders are both under extreme pressure, Sam Rainsy living in self-imposed exile in Paris to avoid imprisonment at home under a long list of rather dubious accusations, and Kem Sokha, under ever new legal threats,  trying to avoid detention as well. The newest law suit against Sam Rainsy alleges that Rainsy committed “incitement” and caused “social turmoil” on September 11 by addressing youth activists gathered at the party’s Phnom Penh headquarters via Skype.

cambodia-cnrpThe latest intimidation exercise, on 10 October, is a two and a half year prison term for CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An  for Facebook posts criticizing the government’s handling of the Vietnamese border. This looks more like a lèse-majesté  case than a fair legal sentence, but the Hun Sen regime has never bothered about velvet gloves.
Um Sam An was arrested already in April and the protest of the party ignored. The Phnom Penh Post’s comment (LINK) was telling:
Parliamentary immunity has been no obstacle for police in the past, however, and government officials on Monday were quick to assert that they were within their rights in arresting Sam An, citing a constitutional clause that allows for the prosecution of a lawmaker if they are caught “in flagrante delicto”, or in the act of committing a crime.”

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Cambodia: Losing Face With Facebook?


Partyforumseasia: Politicians cannot be everywhere in person but they can be omnipresent in the media and especially the social media. Facebook has been discovered as a popularity gauge and booster by practically all leaders  world-wide and of course in Southeast Asia. The higher echelons have their support teams who constantly feed the perceived or imagined demands of voters and respond to online questions coming in.
Hun Sen Facebook

Cambodia has made sufficient progress in internet penetration to make Facebook accounts for the leaders attractive. But boasting about increasing numbers of visits and likes can be a trap as well, as shown in the recent “Facebook war” between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader in exile Sam Rainsy.
On 6 March the Prime Minister had thanked his “national compatriots and youths in the country and overseas” for pushing his likes over the three million mark. Only a few days later, the Phnom Penh Post (Link) revealed that, over the last 30 days, only 20% of the likes had originated from Cambodia (see chart above):
“The biggest influx, 255,692, came from India, where a total of 332,475 Facebook accounts “like” Hun Sen. Further, over the past 30 days, 98,256 accounts from the Philippines liked the premier, as did 54,972 from Myanmar, 46,368 from Indonesia, 26,527 from Brazil, 12,980 from Mexico, 4,783 from Turkey and 3,952 from the United Arab Emirates.”
Honi soit qui mal y pense  or in English: Shame on whomsoever would think badly of it
is the motto of the British Order of the Garter. But beware of suspecting Mr. Hun Sen or his staff of buying Facebook likes in countries as far as India, Brazil and Mexico.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is already in self-imposed exile because of an old defamation suit against him, is burning his fingers once more. On his own Facebook site he exposed instructions from Som Soeun, a Delegate Minister Attached to the Prime Ministers Office, that all rank and file party members shall support the Prime Minister’s Facebook site whenever they can. The prompt retaliation from Som Soeun was another defamation suit against Sam Rainsy.

Facebook likes can easily be bought from “click farms” in poorer countries. Be it overzealous underlings buying the Facebook likes for their leader or anything higher up, the story is as embarrassing as hilarious, if not outright ridiculous.