Giving Up Freedoms to Settle for 'Peace'By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D. (Pacific Daily News)
Whether one perceives Cambodia's recent elections as a glass half full or a glass half empty depends on one's personal political socialization.
Some would see the elections as successful, as the level of violence associated with this exercise of franchise was less than it has been in the past. Those who were victims of the violence that did occur could be expected to have a different view.
Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams warned against "the trap of using lower standards" for judging Cambodia's elections.
The Mekong Times' Ly Menghour's Aug. 4 article refers to photos depicting a finger-wagging Hun Sen apparently scolding opposition leader Sam Rainsy at a departure ceremony for King Father Norodom Sihanouk and his family on Aug. 1, as their "first public exchange of words" since the elections."
The Times says Sen called "demonic" a joint letter by the Sam Rainsy Party, the Human Rights Party, and the Norodom Ranariddh Party protesting election results; and reports Sen's warning to Rainsy that the SRP's "26 seats" won in the elections "will be divided among other (political parties)" should the SRP boycott the Sept. 24 swearing-in ceremony of the elected parliamentarians. The Times says the smiling Rainsy responded: "My party represents the votes of two million."
In his Aug. 5 letter to the editor, Rainsy declares, "the new Assembly cannot even validly convene without participation from the opposition."
Published reports state the head of the royalist FUNCINPEC party, Keo Puth Reasmey, and his wife, Princess Norodom Arunrasmey, a prime minister candidate, have been told by Sen to resign from the party.
On July 28, the Voice of America broadcast a four-party call to Cambodians and the world "not to recognize the results of the July 27, 2008, elections." Prince Sisowath Sirirath signed for FUNCINPEC.
But an Aug. 2 article by Menghour reports FUNCINPEC's reversal of opinion, as it announced after a closed meeting that it may be "not satisfied with the (election's) outcome," but it "(will) not make a complaint against the election results."
Beyond Sen and Cambodia's elections is the fundamental issue that divides peoples and nations: economic development versus rights and freedom of men.
A political animal, man seeks freedom and justice. Without justice, some men will not stop struggling, undermining a durable peace.
When I was still teaching, I attended a lunch in Washington, D.C., with two good friends: One, a political appointee, touted the policies of human rights and freedom of the United States; the other, a ranking Asian diplomat, defended his country's policy of order and security as a prerequisite to economic development.
What I injected into the discussion was my view -- summarized in "Individual freedom in stable society" in the Sept. 10, 1997, edition of the Jakarta Post, and "The world must have balance for survival," in the Sept. 7, 1997, issue of the Pacific Sunday News. Both referenced Somalia, Bosnia, Myanmar and Cambodia, where "repressive" regimes used terror against their people while the West, notably the United States, did not intervene, and how the Association of South-East Asian Nations embraced "non-interference."
I believed then and now that economic development and human rights and freedom are not mutually exclusive.
I didn't think my two friends finished their meal satisfied.
I find the July 29 Christian Science Monitor's David Montero's "In Cambodia vote, stability wins" sums up the Cambodian elections well: "Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for 23 years, won another five-year term Sunday. His party has overseen several prosperous years; critics say it stifles democracy."
Sen is credited for Cambodia's economic growth of more than 10 per cent a year since 2000. The CEO of private-equity fund Leopard Capital that will inject $500 million into Cambodia's economy, cheered Sen's election as a "best-case scenario" for big investors. I doubt if Cambodian victims of land grabbing agree.
British economist Christopher Windsor, who called Cambodians "brainless" for handing the elections to Sen, reminded that even if Cambodians make "twice more" than they did before, the goods and services are "three times more expensive," and the 10 percent growth rate that is "distributed among rich CPP members" means that "all Cambodians" are hurt.
The head of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, Galabru, spoke of the CPP's "mirage of economic stability" as the poor are being evicted from their homes and their land at an alarming rate: "You have a GDP increase, but look at the gap between rich and poor. More than 40 percent (of Cambodia's total population of 14 million) live below the standard income."
Political analyst Sedera Kim told Montero that in Asia, "you don't care about the content of democracy. You care about economic performance first." Galabru begged to differ: "Democracy anywhere, in Europe, in North America, in Asia, must be the same. This is a universal principle," she argued.
Ironically, no Cambodian is in a better position than Sen himself to redress the imbalance of values and principles, and stability and order. But he is the man who said he would stay in power until he's 90, and would not leave power even if he would not win the elections.
A balance between economic growth and human rights must be established in Cambodia, where the people have too long suffered. Unfortunately, economic growth that does not lift the poorest of boats only diminishes the horizon for the millions who are left in the shallows.
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at email@example.com.