Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mouly talks of the press and the party

Mouly talks of the press and the party

Mouly talks of the press and the party

I nformation Minister Ieng Mouly: fighting for control of a divided party,

choosing to be a coalition partner and not an opposition, and facing critics of

the press law. Jason Barber talks to him.

(The following is an

excerpted interview).

Phnom Penh Post: Do you see any possibility

of reconciliation with Son Sann?


Mouly: I think the door is still open for Samdech Son Sann and his

group because we have to refer to the recommendation of the King that we should

find a way to unite...and also for the respect of the memory of the late Meas

Chan Leap who sacrificed his life for the cause of BLDP. We should make every

effort to resolve the internal conflict, but I think the best way is to follow

the rule of the party.

... ... You remember when Mr Chan Leap died, the

police found three letters. A fourth letter was left in his house and was found

by his wife. Son Sann's group accused me of falsifying this letter. I say that

they don't respect the memory of the dead. So I don't need to talk with them. If

they don't believe the letter of Mr Chan Leap, why [would] they come to talk, we

don't need to talk. Then they organize their congress. I can tell you according

to the rules, it is not legal because the congress does not have the approval of

the majority of the Board of Directors.

Post: So you are not willing to talk?

Mouly: No, I don't put it like that. I want to [talk], but the

congress is not legal. The congress of Mr Son Sann is not a practical way to

settle this internal conflict...

But I believe we need to talk, in a

small committee, and if there is a need to organize a congress, it must be in

accordance with the rules of the party. If the Board of Directors decides OK, we

have to hold a new congress with the participation of Son Sann, we can pick a

date that the members can come. What I see now is that Mr Son Sann, maybe not

him but his representative, is manipulating the people. I can assure you that

until now there is no [BLDP] provincial committee who have joined Mr Son Sann as

a whole. I can say that there may be ordinary people outside the party who may

join his congress because when you call support from the poor people who need

rice, who need money, people will come.

Post: People said the same thing about your own congress in July.

Mouly: Yes, but they can say that all those people had a receipt that

they paid 6,000 riels [party membership fee] to have the right to come.

Post: But people were seen to be given receipts without paying any


Mouly: Sure, because we paid for them, if they wanted to come.

Post: Is that buying votes?

Mouly: They are members, they are poor, we want to help them. We

didn't give them money.

Post: You paid yourself, in effect?

Mouly: Exactly, we didn't give rice to them. Son Sann gives rice to

them to come [to his congress]. I've done nothing bad. We paid them the right to

participate in the congress because in the rules, if you don't pay for [party]

membership, you cannot come. The Son Sann people pay them to come along. They

are members, or they are not members, they don't care.

Post: The people you paid membership fees for were not all BLDP


Mouly: Sure they are members. They have paid once, in 1992, but now if

they want to come in 1995, it's a yearly fee... 6,000 riels. This is fair. Maybe

I have paid more than others because my members, my supporters, are poor people.

But they are my supporters, so I give them the money to pay to the party.

Post: Have some of the people who came to support you asked you for jobs

in the government?

Mouly: Well, this is natural. We have to be friends. When you help

them to get jobs, they have to support you. I think they are members of the

party, they have the right to come, so I can tell you that there are some people

who come to support me because they recognize what I have done to get them


Post: Have you asked the Chairman of the National Assembly to expel the

BLDP MPs who support Son Sann?

Mouly: Well, it is not a request. But according to the rule that

everyone practices now, when you have some members of your party lose their

membership, you have to inform the National Assembly. So I... sent a letter to

inform that Mr Son Sann and his group - Son Sann, his son [Son Soubert], Kem

Sokha and Pol Ham - [have been expelled from the party]. I haven't asked yet to

remove them [from the National Assembly], but I informed that we have a list of

new people who can replace those people.

Post: You believe that unless these four are reinstated to the party, they

will lose their National Assembly seats?

Mouly: That is what we have to do. If they want to stay, if they want

to avoid any problem with their seats in the National Assembly, they have to

come and negotiate for their membership of the party. I think this is what they

ought to do, not to hold a congress.

Because, you know, it was not me who

invented this rule. The expulsion of the member from the National Assembly does

not come from Ieng Mouly. It comes from other people, and it was agreed by Son

Sann because he proposed to expel me from the party, and they link my case to

Sam Rainsy. People like Kem Sokha say if you remove Sam Rainsy, you have to

remove Ieng Mouly also. So in this issue, it is only Rainsy who is opposing the

dismissal of an MP from the National Assembly. Everyone in Cambodia now accepts

this principle.

Post: On December 27, Son Sann issued an urgent appeal for "all powers

necessary" to be given to the King to achieve national reconciliation. Were you

told of the appeal before it was made?

Mouly: He [Son Sann] is the man who never consults the party before he

makes a big decision. Doing anything like that, he asked all members 'I take a

big decision, so you raise your hands to give me power' to do it.

Post: Did you agree with the sentiments expressed in the


Mouly: Well, we have to see how much we can get a consensus on this

issue. Because in that case, we have to review the constitution and the

constitution is the result of a very long debate and discussion at the National

Assembly, and compromise also. I believe that if we get a majority in the

National Assembly, like two-thirds, we can. But if we don't get two thirds,

there is no possibility... to revoke the clauses of the constitution.

Post: Would you vote in favor of changing the constitution to give more

power to the King?

Mouly: Well, I'm a man who has given my support for a constitutional

democracy. I believe that the monarchy is only the skin of the regime, the face

of the regime. What we want, what everyone needs, is the substance and the

substance is the liberal democratic system, the pluralist system. This is what

we agreed for the constitution. If, of course, the situation becomes really

unstable, there is a state of war, I think everyone has to agree to give all

power to the King because he is the man who can unite all the people of

Cambodia. But for the time being, it is too soon. We have only two years'

experience of democracy, we have to see the result.

Post: Your position as Minister of Information was given to you by

Funcinpec. Did you consider turning it down?

Mouly: No, I think BLDP's objective is to help the country. It seemed

that the country needed a neutral person in this place, so we can avoid

confrontation between the two big parties.

Post: And the moment you became Minister of Information you considered

your role was to work as part of the government rather than in an opposition


Mouly: This was the clarification of the party line that I just drew

up during the congress on July 9. We are part of the government, BLDP is part of

the government. In this situation, you must be clear - you are in the

government, or you are in the opposition. You cannot on one hand stay in the

government, playing [a role in] government policy, and on the other hand do

opposition work.

Post: Isn't that what BLDP has been doing, with you in this position and

other MPs such as Kem Sokha and Son Chhay acting more like a traditional

opposition in the National Assembly?

Mouly: Exactly this way is what we do. We cannot on the one hand

support the government which prepared the constitution and on the other hand Mr

Son Sann acts to review the constitution, to bring the Khmer Rouge back, etc.

But the role of the MP is different. It does not mean that while your party is

in the government, you must keep quiet in the National Assembly. If you want to

help [draw up] good law, yes, you should do that.

Post: The co-Prime Ministers, particularly the Second PM, have supported

you, rather than Son Sann, as BLDP leader. Why?

Mouly: Because we have a common understanding on the Cambodia

situation. We feel that Cambodia needs at least 10 years of peace and stability

to rebuild the country, starting on the ground. Adoption of new law, reform of

the administration, reform in the police, the army, the civil service, creating

the environment to attract investors. If the leaders do not have this common

understanding, and tell the people to attack each other, do you think we will

have stability, do you think we'll have peace? If you ask the people whether

they have to choose between peace, security, safety and a sort [of] freedom or

liberal democracy, they search for peace, security, safety.

Post: Do you worry that your actions, though, could be seen as helping the

government to silence opposition voices?

Mouly: Well, opposition voices are not from BLDP. You cannot silence

opposition from BLDP as a political party. But you can have MPs in BLDP who

voice out their opinion to improve the law or the government's way.

Post: And it is some of those MPs who now face being expelled?

Mouly: They have to choose. If they join us, they be in a government

party coalition. If they stay out, they can form an opposition. Myself, I see

the need of the country and also the party to strengthen ourselves. We need to

be in the government.

Also, you have to be clear on your stand - whether

you accept the result of the election and go through the process, and let the

people who are elected [rule]. Those who have to go again to the people [at the

next general election] in 1998. What we must worry is that there will be no

election. But until that day, for the time-being, there is no risk that we won't

agree to go to the election. So this is democracy - if the government does

something wrong, they have to take responsibility in 1998.

Post: Do you see BLDP running in the election as an opposition party or as

part of a government coalition running for re-election?

Mouly: I agree in principle with Prince Ranariddh that we will form

another coalition after 1998. But BLDP will compete in the election not as an

opposition party, but as a different party. That means with a new proposal, a

new idea, a new policy on how to improve the situation.

Post: Do you think the 1998 election will be delayed?

Mouly: You know, from the government's side, our leaders believe that

there is enough support for the government in the election, so they don't need

to delay. Also, because of the decision to have local administration elections

next year, this can also reinforce the idea of having a general election in

1998. And why I am convinced there will be an election is because the way I see

the leaders of the parties, they are ready now. They start to campaign - you

know, when you visit one place, you bring something for the people, you take

care of the people. The Second Prime Minister, he has his Krang Yeou irrigation

project. Samdech Krom Preah [Prince Ranariddh], he has many projects. So it's

for the benefit of the people. I think it's better than pressuring the people by


Post: After the 1998 election, presuming a coalition government is formed,

do you think there should be one PM, two PMs or three PMs?

Mouly: We have this special two-Prime Minister system because of the

transitional provisions in the constitution. And when the constitution is fully

implemented, then we end the transitional period [and] there must be only one

Prime Minister.

Post: Will that be after the 1998 elections or later?

Mouly: When we

complete the transitional period. That means when the constitutional

institutions are in place - the Constitutional Council, the electoral law,


Post: And that should be?

Mouly: I think before 1998.

Post: The First Prime Minister recently wrote that if a coalition

government hadn't been formed after the 1993 election, Cambodia would have faced

a return to civil war. Will it be the same situation after the 1998


Mouly: I think the situation is very different from 1993 because, as I

just mentioned, there will be a local administration election in 1996 or early

1997. You will have a new local administration in the country, especially with

chiefs of communes. At the same time, you will have people coming from BLDP,

from Funcinpec, to be chiefs of districts. So the power is not only held by one

party like in 1993. Also, because of the time. I think we have changed. Little

by little the people respond. They cannot stay outside the rule of law. When you

have a new local administration, when you have a good police, when you have a

good judiciary system, I think there is no risk of a return to the one party, to

the dictatorship.

Post: The First Prime Minister also wrote that the Western brand of

democracy and freedom of the press is not applicable to Cambodia. Do you


Mouly: First you have to compare the situation before and after the

election. How many newspapers you had before, how many newspapers you have now.

Even with the criticism about the control of the press, they are still free. And

then you have to see the reality. How many people read newspapers - a maximum of

100,000. Do you take care of the 100,000 or do you take care of the millions of

other people, nine million? And what do they need, the nine million? I tell you

again - peace, security, safety. So for me, as Minister of Information, I have

to be responsible for the whole population. I have to do everything to allow my

nine million to get news...on the other hand I have to take care of the

journalists. First, I have to do everything to ensure that our journalists

attain an international standard. If you write the truth, fair reporting, that's

OK. But when there is no truth, no fair reporting, there will be a reaction from

the reader or from the victim of the article, so there may be incidents.

Post: The new press law has provisions - but doesn't give definitions - of

national security, political stability or humiliation of national institutions.

How are journalists expected to know what is considered fair reporting?

Mouly: Well, I have promised at the National Assembly that there will

be a definition of national security, political stability, humiliation. I

promised... there will be a sub-decree issued by the government with a clear

definition. Second, there will be a Security Act to be passed by the National

Assembly. On that day, there will be a debate and a full definition of national

security, political stability and maybe humiliation, I'm not so sure about


But as I have already expressed in the National Assembly, national

security is a very serious matter. You cannot use this just to arrest

[journalists] or to shut down a newspaper.

Also, just to add to the

statement of the First Prime Minister, Cambodia is quite different from the

West. You don't have Pol Pot, you don't have the killing of intellectuals, you

don't have the destruction of infrastructure. We do, and we are in the process

of rebuilding. When the process is complete, we may compete with you over

liberal democracy, over press freedom.

Post: By linking the press with Pol Pot, are you saying that to have an

unrestrained press could help the Khmer Rouge?

Mouly: No, I just want to tell you because of Pol Pot, we cannot come

up to the same level as your country, your society. Because of the combination

of war, of Pol Pot, we need to rebuild the country first, to build up the

institutions first. Without institutions, you cannot establish gains.

Post: Does the press have a role in encouraging the government to build

those institutions?

Mouly: If they think they can help to rebuild society faster, they

should do that. If they think that insulting the government is the way to help

the government, it is also their right. But with the actual state of their

country, I think the way our press is doing it just helps to divide. You create

a gap between the leaders and the people, and then there is no unity.

Post: Can you promise that no journalist will be charged with affecting

national security or political stability until there are clear definitions of


Mouly: Well, practically, you have to refer to the [press law] debate

in the National Assembly.... the definition of national security I have

enumerated there already - briefly, if you publish military secrets, if you

endanger military operations, you incite war between neighboring countries, etc.

For political stability, that means you incite the people not to respect law, to

fight against the constitution, to publish false information that leads to a

devaluation of the riel, or to fight against the constitutional monarchy,

something like that.

Post: Why could definitions not be put in the press law itself?

Mouly: Because of the form of the law. We [follow] the French system

of law. In the French system, there are no definitions. The French system allows

the judge to interpret the law.

Post: It's widely believed that you wanted the political stability

provision removed from the law. Were you entirely happy with the final


Mouly: Well, of course political stability is not a legal term in the

law. [But] I have to recognize that maybe it's a necessity that Cambodia have it

for the time being. And I'm looking for a full definition of political stability

so that there will be no abuse.

Post: You believe you can get enough support to include a clear definition

in another law?

Mouly: I think it will be the Security Act, it is natural to have a

definition. If there is no definition of security in the Security Act...

ridiculous. So this is also a reason why we don't put one in the press law,

because we don't know what the experts will propose [for the Security Act].

Post: Journalists can now be charged under the press law, the UNTAC/SNC

criminal law, the SOC press law and maybe sometime in the future the Security


Mouly: Journalists are covered by the press law in general. But a

journalist is also a citizen, and a citizen is responsible before [other]


Post: The SoC law?

Mouly: No, this law will replace the SoC law.

Post: Can a newspaper be closed down permanently under the press


Mouly: It depends on the court, because there are no provisions on

that. The court can suspend longer than 30 days, or less. There is no clear


Post: A court recently ordered the Khmer Ideal newspaper permanently

closed under the SoC law, even though the newspaper was not charged under SoC

law. Some have said that sentence was illegal?

Mouly: I don't make any comment on the work of the court. What I can

say is that at least the rule of law is shaping. I hope that... there will be a

new generation of judges who can understand the law, and can understand their

duty, and I hope their salary will be increased also, so we can get away from

the problem we have now.

Post: Do you have a view on the complaint [filed by a government lawyer]

against the Phnom Penh Post?

Mouly: Well, the Phnom Penh Post [complaint is about] an old story

published in March. So frankly, we already forgot this article. What I have

heard from the First Prime Minister is that there is no need to continue the

process, but there may also be the judge's system. When you file a complaint,

they have to investigate, etc. But from the government's side, we don't see the

obligation to continue the process.


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