I nformation Minister Ieng Mouly: fighting for control of a divided party,
choosing to be a coalition partner and not an opposition, and facing critics of
the press law. Jason Barber talks to him.
(The following is an
Phnom Penh Post: Do you see any possibility
of reconciliation with Son Sann?
Mouly: I think the door is still open for Samdech Son Sann and his
group because we have to refer to the recommendation of the King that we should
find a way to unite...and also for the respect of the memory of the late Meas
Chan Leap who sacrificed his life for the cause of BLDP. We should make every
effort to resolve the internal conflict, but I think the best way is to follow
the rule of the party.
... ... You remember when Mr Chan Leap died, the
police found three letters. A fourth letter was left in his house and was found
by his wife. Son Sann's group accused me of falsifying this letter. I say that
they don't respect the memory of the dead. So I don't need to talk with them. If
they don't believe the letter of Mr Chan Leap, why [would] they come to talk, we
don't need to talk. Then they organize their congress. I can tell you according
to the rules, it is not legal because the congress does not have the approval of
the majority of the Board of Directors.
Post: So you are not willing to talk?
Mouly: No, I don't put it like that. I want to [talk], but the
congress is not legal. The congress of Mr Son Sann is not a practical way to
settle this internal conflict...
But I believe we need to talk, in a
small committee, and if there is a need to organize a congress, it must be in
accordance with the rules of the party. If the Board of Directors decides OK, we
have to hold a new congress with the participation of Son Sann, we can pick a
date that the members can come. What I see now is that Mr Son Sann, maybe not
him but his representative, is manipulating the people. I can assure you that
until now there is no [BLDP] provincial committee who have joined Mr Son Sann as
a whole. I can say that there may be ordinary people outside the party who may
join his congress because when you call support from the poor people who need
rice, who need money, people will come.
Post: People said the same thing about your own congress in July.
Mouly: Yes, but they can say that all those people had a receipt that
they paid 6,000 riels [party membership fee] to have the right to come.
Post: But people were seen to be given receipts without paying any
Mouly: Sure, because we paid for them, if they wanted to come.
Post: Is that buying votes?
Mouly: They are members, they are poor, we want to help them. We
didn't give them money.
Post: You paid yourself, in effect?
Mouly: Exactly, we didn't give rice to them. Son Sann gives rice to
them to come [to his congress]. I've done nothing bad. We paid them the right to
participate in the congress because in the rules, if you don't pay for [party]
membership, you cannot come. The Son Sann people pay them to come along. They
are members, or they are not members, they don't care.
Post: The people you paid membership fees for were not all BLDP
Mouly: Sure they are members. They have paid once, in 1992, but now if
they want to come in 1995, it's a yearly fee... 6,000 riels. This is fair. Maybe
I have paid more than others because my members, my supporters, are poor people.
But they are my supporters, so I give them the money to pay to the party.
Post: Have some of the people who came to support you asked you for jobs
in the government?
Mouly: Well, this is natural. We have to be friends. When you help
them to get jobs, they have to support you. I think they are members of the
party, they have the right to come, so I can tell you that there are some people
who come to support me because they recognize what I have done to get them
Post: Have you asked the Chairman of the National Assembly to expel the
BLDP MPs who support Son Sann?
Mouly: Well, it is not a request. But according to the rule that
everyone practices now, when you have some members of your party lose their
membership, you have to inform the National Assembly. So I... sent a letter to
inform that Mr Son Sann and his group - Son Sann, his son [Son Soubert], Kem
Sokha and Pol Ham - [have been expelled from the party]. I haven't asked yet to
remove them [from the National Assembly], but I informed that we have a list of
new people who can replace those people.
Post: You believe that unless these four are reinstated to the party, they
will lose their National Assembly seats?
Mouly: That is what we have to do. If they want to stay, if they want
to avoid any problem with their seats in the National Assembly, they have to
come and negotiate for their membership of the party. I think this is what they
ought to do, not to hold a congress.
Because, you know, it was not me who
invented this rule. The expulsion of the member from the National Assembly does
not come from Ieng Mouly. It comes from other people, and it was agreed by Son
Sann because he proposed to expel me from the party, and they link my case to
Sam Rainsy. People like Kem Sokha say if you remove Sam Rainsy, you have to
remove Ieng Mouly also. So in this issue, it is only Rainsy who is opposing the
dismissal of an MP from the National Assembly. Everyone in Cambodia now accepts
Post: On December 27, Son Sann issued an urgent appeal for "all powers
necessary" to be given to the King to achieve national reconciliation. Were you
told of the appeal before it was made?
Mouly: He [Son Sann] is the man who never consults the party before he
makes a big decision. Doing anything like that, he asked all members 'I take a
big decision, so you raise your hands to give me power' to do it.
Post: Did you agree with the sentiments expressed in the
Mouly: Well, we have to see how much we can get a consensus on this
issue. Because in that case, we have to review the constitution and the
constitution is the result of a very long debate and discussion at the National
Assembly, and compromise also. I believe that if we get a majority in the
National Assembly, like two-thirds, we can. But if we don't get two thirds,
there is no possibility... to revoke the clauses of the constitution.
Post: Would you vote in favor of changing the constitution to give more
power to the King?
Mouly: Well, I'm a man who has given my support for a constitutional
democracy. I believe that the monarchy is only the skin of the regime, the face
of the regime. What we want, what everyone needs, is the substance and the
substance is the liberal democratic system, the pluralist system. This is what
we agreed for the constitution. If, of course, the situation becomes really
unstable, there is a state of war, I think everyone has to agree to give all
power to the King because he is the man who can unite all the people of
Cambodia. But for the time being, it is too soon. We have only two years'
experience of democracy, we have to see the result.
Post: Your position as Minister of Information was given to you by
Funcinpec. Did you consider turning it down?
Mouly: No, I think BLDP's objective is to help the country. It seemed
that the country needed a neutral person in this place, so we can avoid
confrontation between the two big parties.
Post: And the moment you became Minister of Information you considered
your role was to work as part of the government rather than in an opposition
Mouly: This was the clarification of the party line that I just drew
up during the congress on July 9. We are part of the government, BLDP is part of
the government. In this situation, you must be clear - you are in the
government, or you are in the opposition. You cannot on one hand stay in the
government, playing [a role in] government policy, and on the other hand do
Post: Isn't that what BLDP has been doing, with you in this position and
other MPs such as Kem Sokha and Son Chhay acting more like a traditional
opposition in the National Assembly?
Mouly: Exactly this way is what we do. We cannot on the one hand
support the government which prepared the constitution and on the other hand Mr
Son Sann acts to review the constitution, to bring the Khmer Rouge back, etc.
But the role of the MP is different. It does not mean that while your party is
in the government, you must keep quiet in the National Assembly. If you want to
help [draw up] good law, yes, you should do that.
Post: The co-Prime Ministers, particularly the Second PM, have supported
you, rather than Son Sann, as BLDP leader. Why?
Mouly: Because we have a common understanding on the Cambodia
situation. We feel that Cambodia needs at least 10 years of peace and stability
to rebuild the country, starting on the ground. Adoption of new law, reform of
the administration, reform in the police, the army, the civil service, creating
the environment to attract investors. If the leaders do not have this common
understanding, and tell the people to attack each other, do you think we will
have stability, do you think we'll have peace? If you ask the people whether
they have to choose between peace, security, safety and a sort [of] freedom or
liberal democracy, they search for peace, security, safety.
Post: Do you worry that your actions, though, could be seen as helping the
government to silence opposition voices?
Mouly: Well, opposition voices are not from BLDP. You cannot silence
opposition from BLDP as a political party. But you can have MPs in BLDP who
voice out their opinion to improve the law or the government's way.
Post: And it is some of those MPs who now face being expelled?
Mouly: They have to choose. If they join us, they be in a government
party coalition. If they stay out, they can form an opposition. Myself, I see
the need of the country and also the party to strengthen ourselves. We need to
be in the government.
Also, you have to be clear on your stand - whether
you accept the result of the election and go through the process, and let the
people who are elected [rule]. Those who have to go again to the people [at the
next general election] in 1998. What we must worry is that there will be no
election. But until that day, for the time-being, there is no risk that we won't
agree to go to the election. So this is democracy - if the government does
something wrong, they have to take responsibility in 1998.
Post: Do you see BLDP running in the election as an opposition party or as
part of a government coalition running for re-election?
Mouly: I agree in principle with Prince Ranariddh that we will form
another coalition after 1998. But BLDP will compete in the election not as an
opposition party, but as a different party. That means with a new proposal, a
new idea, a new policy on how to improve the situation.
Post: Do you think the 1998 election will be delayed?
Mouly: You know, from the government's side, our leaders believe that
there is enough support for the government in the election, so they don't need
to delay. Also, because of the decision to have local administration elections
next year, this can also reinforce the idea of having a general election in
1998. And why I am convinced there will be an election is because the way I see
the leaders of the parties, they are ready now. They start to campaign - you
know, when you visit one place, you bring something for the people, you take
care of the people. The Second Prime Minister, he has his Krang Yeou irrigation
project. Samdech Krom Preah [Prince Ranariddh], he has many projects. So it's
for the benefit of the people. I think it's better than pressuring the people by
Post: After the 1998 election, presuming a coalition government is formed,
do you think there should be one PM, two PMs or three PMs?
Mouly: We have this special two-Prime Minister system because of the
transitional provisions in the constitution. And when the constitution is fully
implemented, then we end the transitional period [and] there must be only one
Post: Will that be after the 1998 elections or later?
Mouly: When we
complete the transitional period. That means when the constitutional
institutions are in place - the Constitutional Council, the electoral law,
Post: And that should be?
Mouly: I think before 1998.
Post: The First Prime Minister recently wrote that if a coalition
government hadn't been formed after the 1993 election, Cambodia would have faced
a return to civil war. Will it be the same situation after the 1998
Mouly: I think the situation is very different from 1993 because, as I
just mentioned, there will be a local administration election in 1996 or early
1997. You will have a new local administration in the country, especially with
chiefs of communes. At the same time, you will have people coming from BLDP,
from Funcinpec, to be chiefs of districts. So the power is not only held by one
party like in 1993. Also, because of the time. I think we have changed. Little
by little the people respond. They cannot stay outside the rule of law. When you
have a new local administration, when you have a good police, when you have a
good judiciary system, I think there is no risk of a return to the one party, to
Post: The First Prime Minister also wrote that the Western brand of
democracy and freedom of the press is not applicable to Cambodia. Do you
Mouly: First you have to compare the situation before and after the
election. How many newspapers you had before, how many newspapers you have now.
Even with the criticism about the control of the press, they are still free. And
then you have to see the reality. How many people read newspapers - a maximum of
100,000. Do you take care of the 100,000 or do you take care of the millions of
other people, nine million? And what do they need, the nine million? I tell you
again - peace, security, safety. So for me, as Minister of Information, I have
to be responsible for the whole population. I have to do everything to allow my
nine million to get news...on the other hand I have to take care of the
journalists. First, I have to do everything to ensure that our journalists
attain an international standard. If you write the truth, fair reporting, that's
OK. But when there is no truth, no fair reporting, there will be a reaction from
the reader or from the victim of the article, so there may be incidents.
Post: The new press law has provisions - but doesn't give definitions - of
national security, political stability or humiliation of national institutions.
How are journalists expected to know what is considered fair reporting?
Mouly: Well, I have promised at the National Assembly that there will
be a definition of national security, political stability, humiliation. I
promised... there will be a sub-decree issued by the government with a clear
definition. Second, there will be a Security Act to be passed by the National
Assembly. On that day, there will be a debate and a full definition of national
security, political stability and maybe humiliation, I'm not so sure about
But as I have already expressed in the National Assembly, national
security is a very serious matter. You cannot use this just to arrest
[journalists] or to shut down a newspaper.
Also, just to add to the
statement of the First Prime Minister, Cambodia is quite different from the
West. You don't have Pol Pot, you don't have the killing of intellectuals, you
don't have the destruction of infrastructure. We do, and we are in the process
of rebuilding. When the process is complete, we may compete with you over
liberal democracy, over press freedom.
Post: By linking the press with Pol Pot, are you saying that to have an
unrestrained press could help the Khmer Rouge?
Mouly: No, I just want to tell you because of Pol Pot, we cannot come
up to the same level as your country, your society. Because of the combination
of war, of Pol Pot, we need to rebuild the country first, to build up the
institutions first. Without institutions, you cannot establish gains.
Post: Does the press have a role in encouraging the government to build
Mouly: If they think they can help to rebuild society faster, they
should do that. If they think that insulting the government is the way to help
the government, it is also their right. But with the actual state of their
country, I think the way our press is doing it just helps to divide. You create
a gap between the leaders and the people, and then there is no unity.
Post: Can you promise that no journalist will be charged with affecting
national security or political stability until there are clear definitions of
Mouly: Well, practically, you have to refer to the [press law] debate
in the National Assembly.... the definition of national security I have
enumerated there already - briefly, if you publish military secrets, if you
endanger military operations, you incite war between neighboring countries, etc.
For political stability, that means you incite the people not to respect law, to
fight against the constitution, to publish false information that leads to a
devaluation of the riel, or to fight against the constitutional monarchy,
something like that.
Post: Why could definitions not be put in the press law itself?
Mouly: Because of the form of the law. We [follow] the French system
of law. In the French system, there are no definitions. The French system allows
the judge to interpret the law.
Post: It's widely believed that you wanted the political stability
provision removed from the law. Were you entirely happy with the final
Mouly: Well, of course political stability is not a legal term in the
law. [But] I have to recognize that maybe it's a necessity that Cambodia have it
for the time being. And I'm looking for a full definition of political stability
so that there will be no abuse.
Post: You believe you can get enough support to include a clear definition
in another law?
Mouly: I think it will be the Security Act, it is natural to have a
definition. If there is no definition of security in the Security Act...
ridiculous. So this is also a reason why we don't put one in the press law,
because we don't know what the experts will propose [for the Security Act].
Post: Journalists can now be charged under the press law, the UNTAC/SNC
criminal law, the SOC press law and maybe sometime in the future the Security
Mouly: Journalists are covered by the press law in general. But a
journalist is also a citizen, and a citizen is responsible before [other]
Post: The SoC law?
Mouly: No, this law will replace the SoC law.
Post: Can a newspaper be closed down permanently under the press
Mouly: It depends on the court, because there are no provisions on
that. The court can suspend longer than 30 days, or less. There is no clear
Post: A court recently ordered the Khmer Ideal newspaper permanently
closed under the SoC law, even though the newspaper was not charged under SoC
law. Some have said that sentence was illegal?
Mouly: I don't make any comment on the work of the court. What I can
say is that at least the rule of law is shaping. I hope that... there will be a
new generation of judges who can understand the law, and can understand their
duty, and I hope their salary will be increased also, so we can get away from
the problem we have now.
Post: Do you have a view on the complaint [filed by a government lawyer]
against the Phnom Penh Post?
Mouly: Well, the Phnom Penh Post [complaint is about] an old story
published in March. So frankly, we already forgot this article. What I have
heard from the First Prime Minister is that there is no need to continue the
process, but there may also be the judge's system. When you file a complaint,
they have to investigate, etc. But from the government's side, we don't see the
obligation to continue the process.