Recent Cambodian history appears vastly gloomy and dreadfully
ill-fated as a result of its people's tug of power and foreign interference,
especially since the illegal coup d'etat in early 1970.
politicians - regardless of where their ideological inclination and political
loyalty lies - who are accountable for waging war for the last few decades,
constantly maintain and hail themselves as "parties" yet none have admitted to
committing unpartriotic acitivities or shortcomings against the nation, even if
some of them have, in fact, killed millions of Cambodians.
overthrew King Sihanouk's Sangkum Reastr Niyum in March 18, 1970 in a bid, he
said, to end problems with Vietnam and to increase development projects with
The pro-American regime was toppled in April 17, 1975
by the Khmer Rouge-led national liberation movement. The victory, at the time,
was enthusiastically welcomed by Cambodian people, hoping for peace and freedom.
That hope lasted only three days. Pol Pot's terrible order was to "kill off
whomever objects to Angkar's command". There was no French, American or
Vietnamese invasion, no intervention from neighboring countries, no foreign
But what do you think about heaps of bleached Khmer skulls and
bones scattered around the country and a destruction of the nation's
Heng Samrin who was deputy chief of staff of the Eastern
Military Zone of Democratic Kampuchea until 1978 - the time of his defection and
rebellion to form a Cambodian National Liberation Front, a movement totally
backed and supported by Vietnam - with his stalwarts such as Chea Sim, Pen
Sovann and Hun Sen. They dispelled Pol Pot's reign of terror and installed the
People's Republic of Cambodia Government under close command and supervision
from Vietnamese experts.
I have never heard anyone talking about human
rights violations or free expression at that time because rights abuses were
routine and freedom to speak out non-existent.
At the onset, Vietnam
seemed to come here to help the people and we were then quite grateful and full
of passion for their presence because they gave us a new lease of life. After
few years their presence become boring and they eventually outstayed their
welcome. People realized that their help was strictly and enormously attached by
formidable conditions which were completely unacceptable.
Hun Sen, the
most meteoric official of the Cambodian People's Party, is known to move with
the times and he gained considerable success in his tenure, including solving
Cambodia's two-decade long civil war through peace negotiations sponsored by the
international community and the United Nations.
The non-existent press
freedom in the 1980s were not surprising because the de-facto government wasn't
internationally recognised except by a few communist states and the Soviet bloc.
A person who spoke out about government policies would be politically interned
or would mysteriously disappear because the government's strategy was to prevent
the Khmer Rouge and other resistance groups from wresting state
The United Nations decided to help "build" democracy (a government
that allows freedom of expression, religion, political opinion, that respects
human rights and the rights of ethnic minorities, that upholds the rule of law
and makes decisions in accordance with the majority of people or through their
elected representatives) in Cambodia with agreement from the four warring
parties. For Cambodians, that was the time when they could cheerfully look at
"democracy" looming on the horizon. Privately-owned news media mushroomed in the
city and later on about 20 political parties were officially registered with
UNTAC organized the first free and fair general elections which
resulted in the present Royal Government headed by twin premiers. However, it
failed to control the former State of Cambodia's key five ministries or push the
Khmer Rouge to lay down their arms and join the election.
generous aid, democracy in Cambodia - even though still very bad compared with
other stable countries - is seen changing and progressing a great deal compared
with the past two decades.
Of course, it is not all good or admirable
but it is acceptable for us who have never tried such an experience before. The
major donor countries "are not satisfied with Cambodian democracy" because it is
too unlike their own. But we Cambodians believe this is the first step and it
will improve over time. We are optimistic even if others aren't.
UNTAC, we didn't know what democracy would be; now we can have our say and we
optimistically expect the government to try their utmost to improve its
performance in all fields, zeroing in on graft busting, freedom of expression,
law enforcement and other relavant issues to make our fledgling democracy
stronger so as not to disappoint our respectful aid donor countries.
government flaws be lessened and democracy go ahead!
- Name withheld on request, Phnom Penh.