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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rumour, hearsay and conflict

Cambodian People’s Party supporters attend  a campaign rally in Phnom Penh last month.
Cambodian People’s Party supporters attend a campaign rally in Phnom Penh last month. Since the election rumours and hearsay have swept the country, causing fear and confusion. COURTESY OF DC-CAM

Rumour, hearsay and conflict

Comment

Despite “rumour or hearsay” of social instability in Cambodian society, the National Election Committee (NEC) decided to proceed with its first provisional announcement of the electoral result.

I have grave concerns that these two terms could ignite a civil conflict that the Cambodians have feared before, during and after the general election on July 28.

The terms have almost the same literal translation in Khmer language, but bear slightly different legal interpretations.

The word “rumour” is literally defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as a way of “circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth”.

It’s merely a statement from word of mouth that has no credible ground, usually serving a specific purpose for an individual or a group.

This term is close to the meaning of “hearsay”. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “hearsay” means: “Traditionally, testimony that is given by a witness who relates not what he or she knows personally, but what others have said, and that is therefore dependent on the credibility of someone other that the witness.”

Both terms depict how information can spread without verification, but “hearsay” could be legally verified through cross-examination into documents or testimony, especially in a court of law. I would prefer here to use it interchangeably.

It’s almost typical for Cambodian society to live with the unverified truth that ends with seeing their innocence often exploited and their nation, sometimes, in great danger. Recently, rumours about a possible conflict spread as a result of the general election.

During election day, a rumour spread across Phnom Penh that there was a military mobilisation, which was an indication that war would break out.

It took a while before realising there was a riot in Stung Meanchey, where two vehicles from the authorities were set ablaze. However, the effective and quick word of mouth led people to panic, hurrying to buy food in preparation for a possible conflict.

A few days after the election, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy threatened to hold a nationwide protest, while the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) increased the presence of police and armed forces in Phnom Penh in the name of maintaining public law and order.

Rumour even spread that some roads were sealed off near the Independence Monument – social havoc would be imminent.

Over the last few days, the mobilisation of armed personnel into Phnom Penh has made the already-tense situation worse around the country.

The rumour or hearsay of a civil conflict looms large if the CNRP proceeds with its mass protest plan that might turn violent for an unspecified reason.

If this is the case, Cambodian blood will spill again.

This is not what the Cambodian people want.

After the first provisional result declared yesterday, rumours could be heard in every corner of Cambodia. Supporters of the CPP and CNRP uttered mixed reactions, ranging from optimism and concern.

Fourth-year university student Ren Chanrith, a 28-year-old CNRP supporter, heard people saying that a sense of great disappointment with the election result is widespread, especially amongst the youth and not from CNRP leader Sam Rainsy alone.

There was hearsay that CNRP supporters do not want Rainsy to engage in any power bargaining. Mass protest was the most preferable means to demand an independent body be created to tackle voting irregularities.

Linda, 19, said she heard people spreading rumours that military action would be launched in Phnom Penh. Food prices went up quickly.

Linda, a first-year university student and also a CPP supporter, is concerned that a mass protest would disrupt national progress. Unlike Chanrith, her optimism was that both the CPP and CNRP would strike a deal to tackle the problem.

So, a rhetorical question is, What kinds of measures should the Cambodian people take to prevent rumours that might cause civil unrest? The answer would be simple.

The people have to master rumours and hearsay, rather than letting it master them. If so, politicians will be in no position to use us.

As the Cambodian people are the owners of a sovereign state, they have already exercised their rights to vote for a political party in accordance with their conscience.

Their obligations as good citizens are already being made, thus, it’s highly inappropriate for any party to place the people in a confrontational situation. Their democratic practice has proven their steadfast refusal to adopt a North Africa model of revolution to topple the regime they dislike.

The CPP should shy away from using the armed forces to crack down on its own citizens, while the CNRP should never ever use people, especially youths, to provoke any mass protests that would put our national stability at great risk.

Both sides need to tackle this problem in an acceptable manner that would not resort to any kind of conflict.

This would undoubtedly plunge our country into a new round of instability after the decades of consecutive civil wars and genocide.

Both the CPP and CNRP should study the policies of both sides in a manner that would serve the interest of our beloved motherland and people. People from all walks of life should bear in mind that as the owners and masters of Cambodia, they should never be placed in a position in which they are pitted against each other by political parties – the ruling party or the opposition.

At this point, fallen US President John F Kennedy’s quote – “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” – may fit into the Cambodian context in which both should think of how to jointly develop and move our country forward in a competitive manner with ASEAN and the civilised world.

Competing parties have to learn how to solve problems, while the army and the people, especially the youth, should not let rumour or hearsay bring our nation into chaos.

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