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Prince Ranariddh replies to US critic

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.

If you

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:

  1. The press law is not the work of Ranariddh but it is of the sovereign

    National Assembly.

  2. The press law does not contain any jail sentences, even in the case of

    threats to the national security.

  3. 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

    really liberal.

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



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