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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Man about town: 02 August 2013

Man about town: 02 August 2013

What a great night the Park Hyatt turned on for its opening bash on Monday evening. The venue, the classy Living Room was packed with Siem Reap’s invited A-listers and others, plus the usual gate crashers, and the food and cocktails that were served were, most agreed, the best any opening night in town had featured.

A big call, but a deserved call.

Many comments were also made about the lush urban wood-panelled cosiness of the hotel’s interior design. This big-international -city ambience certainly marks a turning point in the architecture of resort design king Bill Bensley, who usually favours metal and concrete starkness that can at times be a tad cold and slightly sterile.

While support for Sam Rainsy in the election was virtually the universal public and politically correct stance among Siem Reap western expats, it has been interesting to note that there has been a somewhat silent sigh of relief among several long-term expats that Rainsy won’t be running the Kingdom, this time around anyway.

One cause for concern was a general feeling of disquiet that the opposition had neither the skill, experience nor the structure to run the country and that such an abruptly change could only result in severe upheaval and possibly widespread violence.

But of course this may simply be dismissed as merely a cop-out notion of, “Better the devil that you know…,” and that any change, abrupt or otherwise, would be better than no change.

It could, however, also be argued that the huge swell of support for the Rainsy camp puts more members of the opposition into parliament, giving the opposition more on-the-job training if you like, and prepares the ground for a more orderly transition and a springboard for a win next election.

And that the closeness of the election is a wakeup call for the CPP, which now will need to reassess and implement its own change.


But another question is just who historically is Sam Rainsy anyway, and what exactly does he stand for?

His campaigning in Siem Reap, as in some other provinces, hit a sad low when he resorted to a vitriolic play of the racist card by stirring up anti-Vietnamese sentiment, a potentially dangerous card to play and, which has been oft been said, is one of the last resorts of political scoundrels.

Rainsy is also a creature of the American right, indeed some would say the far right, with his US support and funding coming from that quarter.

In 2005, when Rainsy left Cambodia after he and two other MPs were stripped of parliamentary immunity, Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell described the move as "outrageous and unacceptable", and urged the US State Department to respond in "a forceful and appropriate manner.”

In August 2003 Tom Fawthrop published a telling piece in the Irrawaddy Journal in which he noted, “…since October last year, Republican Senator and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Mitch McConnell, and his close associates in the International Republican Institute have thrown their considerable political weight and some financial resources behind the election campaign of Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy.”

Fawthrop also pointed out that, “George Folsom, president of the International Republican Institute (IRI), was less sanguine when he characterized Cambodia as ‘Zimbabwe on the Mekong’, " and added, “Sam Rainsy was lauded in Washington as the ‘Aung San Suu Kyi of Cambodia’, allegedly hounded and persecuted by a ‘communist dictator’."

Fawthrop commented, “The aggressive campaign in Washington against Hun Sen and his victorious CPP and their all-out support for opposition leader Sam Rainsy have less to do with the quality of Cambodia’s fragile democracy, and much more to do with an unfinished cold war agenda..”

Now, a decade later, some suggest that Rainsy’s anti-Vietnam vitriol echoes the sentiments of his right-wing US backers.



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