Although Southeast Asian governments have so far been immune to the rebellion and revolution happening in the Middle East (1) , the two regions have much in common, both in terms of politics and development. Countries in both of these regions have benefited greatly from integration into the world market (2) , but are struggling to adapt their political institutions to suit the countries that they are doing business with.
Western ideals such as freedom of speech are accepted to a certain point, but once the ruling powers come under attack, they are ignored in favour of preserving existing power structures. While Hosni Mubarek stepped down in Egypt with minimal bloodshed, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya is one of a number of leaders in the Middle East, including the ruling parties in Saudi Arabia (3) and Syria, who have refused to go down without a fight.
Cambodia’s government, like those in the Middle East, has restricted the political freedoms of citizens in order to prevent opposition voices from becoming too loud or preventing rallies from ever happening (4) . People critical of the Cambodian People’s Party have been increasingly sent to Cambodia’s court system to defend themselves against charges of defamation, libel and disinformation, where they have almost unanimously been found guilty (5) .
The United Nations recently reported that the governments treatment of critical voices was stifling public debate. In a country such as Cambodia, where innovative ideas, and critical feedback, will be necessary to development (6) , open discussions about how to move forward are crucial, but are currently being slowed by a government that refuses to allow transparency in their own dealings, or open conversations about their decisions and activities if they involve a critical opinions.
Even the recent call for government officials to disclose their earnings has provided little comfort to those seeking transparency. Hun Sen revealed that he earned US$1,450 per month for his role as Prime Minister of the Kingdom. He did not explain how his family can afford to own sprawling villas in and around Phnom Penh (7) or to purchase stake in companies competing in various sectors in the Kingdom.
It is a given in present-day Cambodia that personal freedoms are restricted, but technology is changing how this impacts people, as new platforms are emerging for conversing and coming together on the internet. In this issue we look into whether Facebook is creating a more free space for Cambodians to discuss politics, society and life. Leaders in the Middle East and Southeast Asia have pointed to online social networking as increasingly important tool to rally young supporters (8) , and we wanted to find out if Facebook is also empowering Cambodians to speak their mind.
While we are looking into digital communications, we also wanted to find out why TMS messaging on TV stations such as MyTV has caught on in the Kingdom, and figure out what exactly users hope to get out of their messages.
This week’s Constructive Cambodian column looks as freedom of expression for those of us in the real word. We are also opening our “What’s new” review page to readers. We hope you will send us your opinion on the latest restaurants, music acts or art exhibits open in the Kingdom. Since our readers reviews will be done over Twitter, it will only take you a few minutes to share your thoughts with thousands of our readers.
Hope you enjoy issue 66 of Lift, let us know what you think over email, on Facebook, or by sending a text message to the Lift line.