R esponse to the Open Letter addressed to First Prime Minster Prince Norodom
Ranariddh from Ms. Gay McDougall, Executive Director of the International Human
Rights Group, Washington; (PPPost, Aug 25-Sept 7).
I should like to take
up some of the points you made in your letter. In your first three paragraphs
you lectured me on how wonderful it was that 90 percent of the people turned out
to vote and by applying a narrow definition of democracy as meaning elections,
you twisted my words around and accused me of joining the skeptics to discredit
the elections. Next time before you write such an accusation, I should like to
invite you to inquire from the international diplomats who were here during the
pre-election period, including Charles Twining, other ambassadors and the
current UN Secretary-General's representative. You would then have realized that
despite a lot of pressure from the skeptics, personalities within and outside
the party who tried to persuade me that I should withdraw FUNCINPEC from the
election process (including, by the way Mr. Rainsy, the hero of the Westerners),
and in the wake of political violence and threats from the Khmer Rouge, I stood
firmly and steadfastly in favor of the elections.
Therefore, no one could
be happier than me about the success of the elections and of course, the success
of FUNCINPEC to win that election. No one should be more grateful than me to the
farmers, the civil servants, the soldiers and the students who voted in that
election. Your narrow interpretation of democracy, meaning elections, has drawn
you to the wrong conclusions about my stand on elections. I am in favor of
elections, not only in l993 but also, according to the Constitution, in l998,
when the people of Cambodia will have a chance to evaluate government policies
and cast their vote. In fact, next year we will have elections at the commune
level which will allow the peasants, who make up the bulk of the population, to
express their will.
However, when you are hungry and drought has wiped
out your harvest, your first priority is food and shelter. Democracy to our
farmers, and to many in our developing countries in Asia, is not just elections.
Yes, 90 percent of the farmers voted in the elections. They voted to have peace,
at last, and for economic development and a better life for their children.
Despite many odds against us, the government has made great strides forward in
delivering these aspirations of the people. They were all summarized in my
"Vital Issues". For these poor farmers democracy means food, shelter, medical
care, education and freedom to express, and not just elections.
had stayed here a bit longer and/or had been properly briefed, you would see for
yourself that I am always out in the field to listen first-hand to the IDPs in
Battambang or Siem Reap, from the farmers who suffer from the drought in Prey
Veng. If you are here you will be able to see with your own eyes that farmers
smile and greet me enthusiastically wherever I go. The critics are mostly
congregating in their air-conditioned villas in Paris, Montreal or New York. If
because of the drought, or robberies by bandits and the Khmer Rouge, farmers can
only eat a bowl of gruel with crickets, they would not be concerned with such
fine nuances of legalspeak like whether Sam Rainsy's ouster is legal or illegal
according to the UNTAC election law, the Constitution or the Internal
Regulations of Parliament. When your child is sick and where there is no medical
care you are not worried whether there should be fifty newspapers or forty-five
because some newspapers publish cartoons and articles which are insulting and
untrue and are being tried under existing laws. When I say discipline is
important I mean these matters, because democracy is not anarchy. Everywhere,
including in your country, there are restrictions on freedoms to prevent
According to the press law which has been adopted by the
National Assembly, and about which you wrote: "..the oppressive new press law,
provides little reason for optimism", allow me to say that:
- The press law is not the work of Ranariddh but it is of the sovereign
- The press law does not contain any jail sentences, even in the case of
threats to the national security.
- His Majesty The King Norodom Sihanouk Varman, H.E. Samdech Chea Sim, myself,
and Members of Parliament have worked on the press law in order to make it
Of course, I am the first one to admit that there are problems. Cambodia has
just emerged from twenty years of war and devastation. Our per capita income is
quite low. I am fully aware that there are problems of lowly paid police and
military who can commit crimes with impunity. I, together with Samdech Hun Sen
and the rest of the government, therefore work day and night towards the day
when our budget can be expanded so that all these people, including the judges,
can be paid enough to eliminate this problem. Experience in neighboring
countries indicates that this is the case.
With regard to your idea that
the Khmer Rouge can be better contained in a free society rather than a
controlled one, I do not want to enter into polemics on such a well-debated
Your comparison of what you call political oppression in
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore with those in Burma and North Korea is really
hitting below the belt. Maybe you should take a trip to the countries you
mentioned and you will revise your letter.
You said at the end that the
choice is mine. Yes, Cambodians can choose whatever model they want to
Being a poor country in an environment of rapidly growing
countries in the world we are at an advantage because we can pick elements of
success and reject the elements which we don't like. We don't have to choose
between the two alternatives you presented in your last paragraph.
Norodom Ranariddh September 5, l995