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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM pulls plug on karaoke

PM pulls plug on karaoke

Prime Minister Hun Sen officially decreed the end of fun in an executive order

dated November 20. The instruction shuts all karaoke parlors, bars, nightclubs

and discotheques, whether legal or illegal, starting 6pm today (November

23).

The directive is the latest in a line of similar demands from the

Prime Minister over the past few years. Previous efforts saw all strip clubs

shut down, and casinos banned within 200 kilometers of the capital. He also

forced cable TV companies to stop offering pornographic films, and banned

miniskirts and tight tops for women from Khmer TV. The sale of marijuana was

also outlawed.

The new order requires that "all ministries and

institutions and the town and provincial authorities shall implement this order

cooperatively and effectively". Restaurants are specifically excluded. A

government legal advisor said that assuming the order was enforced, it could

well backfire.

"This is the most wrongheaded thing [the government has]

done in a long time," he said. "All those people who manage to have a job are

going to be wiped out. I can't imagine implementing a policy that could be more

damaging to public opinion - just look how many people make a living out of it.

This is sending exactly the wrong image [of Cambodia]."

The question on

everyone's lips was: Why? Speculation ranges from Hun Sen's anger at the

behavior of his nephews, who have embarrassed him with their well-publicized

firearm-toting activities at karaoke clubs, to a general clean-up of an industry

that is often a thin disguise for prostitution.

The executive order

signed by Hun Sen stated that it was to protect people from criminal activities

so often associated with such entertainment establishments. It also stated that

these places were "destroying the future of teenagers, who are the mainstay of

the country".

However, financially inclined minds came up with an

alternative answer: they thought it might be a cunning ruse to compel those

businesses that pay no tax - that is, most of them - to start paying, or close.

The government recently agreed with donors that it would focus on improving tax

collection next year.

In a classic Catch-22, some of the city's

best-known expatriate bars have been told to sign a paper agreeing to close,

failing which they will be shut down. Others were still awaiting the notice from

the municipal authorities.

The legal advisor said the order would not

only frighten off investors, but could well be unconstitutional.

"The

government should put this off for a month. Aside from the [CFF] attack last

year, this is probably the worst signal you can send to investors. Companies

want stability and want to know the rules aren't going to change overnight," he

said.

The order will also see thousands of people thrown out of

employment, whether legal or otherwise. Minister for Women's Affairs, Mu Sochua,

said as many as 40,000 people could lose their jobs. She said there are no fewer

than 450 establishments in the capital alone.

Sochua said that today

(November 23) her officials will cooperate with NGOs and visit karaoke parlors

to hand out an information leaflet detailing where the workers can go for

assistance such as temporary shelter and legal assistance.

One karaoke

parlor owner, who asked not to be named, said that since the announcement her

staff had visited pagodas to be blessed with holy water and burn incense

imploring the spirits to help revoke the order.

Sok Ny is a singer at a

karaoke club called Golden Star and is distressed at the announcement. She earns

around $80 a month, most of which she sends to her mother and two ill sisters in

Mondolkiri province.

"Right now I don't even have the money to get home,"

she said. "I felt dizzy when I learned that in two days my place will close. I

don't know what I will do to earn money."

Bopha, 26, from Kampong Cham

province said her family too depends entirely on her earnings as a karaoke

worker. Now she is worried she will be unable to repay the money she borrowed to

fund an operation for her mother.

"When I heard this I was shocked and

started to cry," she said. "I had promised to pay the money back next month, but

now my work will close. It is so hard to find a job."

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