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Gains in peace index mask ‘heavy hand’ of government

Masked, heavily armed members of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit sit in a truck travelling past CNRP headquarters last year.
Masked, heavily armed members of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit sit in a truck travelling past CNRP headquarters last year. Hong Menea

Gains in peace index mask ‘heavy hand’ of government

Cambodia made significant progress in peace and stability over the past year, while still getting low marks for political stability and violent crimes, according to the 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI) released today.

“Cambodia’s improvement reflects lower levels of labour unrest in the past year as well as an improvement in the number, duration and role in external conflicts,” the report reads, going on to cite the country’s financial contributions to UN peacekeeping missions as another reason for improvement.

“Unfortunately, much of these improvements are the result of a more heavy-handed approach by the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), in power for nearly 40 years, against the opposition,” the report reads.

Nonetheless, Cambodia was ranked as the third best riser in the world, having moved up in the list by 15 points to rank 89 of 163 countries. The ranking is based on factors such as political instability, violent demonstrations and external conflicts.

An infographic shows risers and fallers in the Global Peace Index. The Kingdom was ranked the third best riser in the world.
An infographic shows risers and fallers in the Global Peace Index. The Kingdom was ranked the third best riser in the world. Global Peace Index

GPI Executive Chairman Steve Killelea yesterday said that the vast majority of data were collected by December 31.

The report thus excluded more recent developments, including a series of measures in recent months taken by the government to pressure the opposition party.

Although political stability “improved somewhat”, Killelea said Cambodia still ranked at 119 in that category.

Cambodia also scored poorly for its increased military expenditure (132) and violent demonstrations (120).

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan responded to findings by saying that “the government has a mandate to maintain peace and stability. We don’t have any unrest.”

But observers warned of shallow stability. “Repression can create a false sense of stability,” Wan-Hea Lee, OHCHR representative in Cambodia, wrote yesterday in an email. “OHCHR would not call this true peace or genuine stability.” As she had not seen the report, however, she could not comment on its specific findings.

Political analyst Meas Ny said that at first sight, the country appears stable because there is no “armed confrontation”, but that this is superficial.

“People don’t feel peace,” he said. “We are not far from peace, and also not far from war,” he said, alluding to threatening rhetoric from the government against the opposition and activists.

The situation, he said, had deteriorated over the past year, pointing to suppression of political dissidents.

“The threats create anger, and the more anger people have, the more concern the government voices,” he said, adding that repeated threats in speeches against “colour revolutionaries” meant that peace wasn’t truly stable.

According to Killelea, the ranking “aims to be as objective as possible” and therefore only counted instances of violence, and not threats.

Sam Inn, secretary-general of the Grassroot Democracy Party, called the CPP rhetoric a campaign tactic. “It’s a tactical strategy of the prime minister to use the language of war because he hopes that the strategy can push people to vote for the CPP,” he said.

Yet, he said, challenges ranged from widespread corruption to land-grabbing. “If the government doesn’t solve these issues, there is a high risk of turmoil,” he said. “This isn’t peaceful long-term stability.”

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