Prime Minister Hun Sen officially decreed the end of fun in an executive order
dated November 20. The instruction shuts all karaoke parlors, bars, nightclubs
and discotheques, whether legal or illegal, starting 6pm today (November
The directive is the latest in a line of similar demands from the
Prime Minister over the past few years. Previous efforts saw all strip clubs
shut down, and casinos banned within 200 kilometers of the capital. He also
forced cable TV companies to stop offering pornographic films, and banned
miniskirts and tight tops for women from Khmer TV. The sale of marijuana was
The new order requires that "all ministries and
institutions and the town and provincial authorities shall implement this order
cooperatively and effectively". Restaurants are specifically excluded. A
government legal advisor said that assuming the order was enforced, it could
"This is the most wrongheaded thing [the government has]
done in a long time," he said. "All those people who manage to have a job are
going to be wiped out. I can't imagine implementing a policy that could be more
damaging to public opinion - just look how many people make a living out of it.
This is sending exactly the wrong image [of Cambodia]."
The question on
everyone's lips was: Why? Speculation ranges from Hun Sen's anger at the
behavior of his nephews, who have embarrassed him with their well-publicized
firearm-toting activities at karaoke clubs, to a general clean-up of an industry
that is often a thin disguise for prostitution.
The executive order
signed by Hun Sen stated that it was to protect people from criminal activities
so often associated with such entertainment establishments. It also stated that
these places were "destroying the future of teenagers, who are the mainstay of
However, financially inclined minds came up with an
alternative answer: they thought it might be a cunning ruse to compel those
businesses that pay no tax - that is, most of them - to start paying, or close.
The government recently agreed with donors that it would focus on improving tax
collection next year.
In a classic Catch-22, some of the city's
best-known expatriate bars have been told to sign a paper agreeing to close,
failing which they will be shut down. Others were still awaiting the notice from
the municipal authorities.
The legal advisor said the order would not
only frighten off investors, but could well be unconstitutional.
government should put this off for a month. Aside from the [CFF] attack last
year, this is probably the worst signal you can send to investors. Companies
want stability and want to know the rules aren't going to change overnight," he
The order will also see thousands of people thrown out of
employment, whether legal or otherwise. Minister for Women's Affairs, Mu Sochua,
said as many as 40,000 people could lose their jobs. She said there are no fewer
than 450 establishments in the capital alone.
Sochua said that today
(November 23) her officials will cooperate with NGOs and visit karaoke parlors
to hand out an information leaflet detailing where the workers can go for
assistance such as temporary shelter and legal assistance.
parlor owner, who asked not to be named, said that since the announcement her
staff had visited pagodas to be blessed with holy water and burn incense
imploring the spirits to help revoke the order.
Sok Ny is a singer at a
karaoke club called Golden Star and is distressed at the announcement. She earns
around $80 a month, most of which she sends to her mother and two ill sisters in
"Right now I don't even have the money to get home,"
she said. "I felt dizzy when I learned that in two days my place will close. I
don't know what I will do to earn money."
Bopha, 26, from Kampong Cham
province said her family too depends entirely on her earnings as a karaoke
worker. Now she is worried she will be unable to repay the money she borrowed to
fund an operation for her mother.
"When I heard this I was shocked and
started to cry," she said. "I had promised to pay the money back next month, but
now my work will close. It is so hard to find a job."