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Singapore-tinted spectacles give rosy view of Cambodia

Singapore-tinted spectacles give rosy view of Cambodia

The problem with Verghese Mathews' assessment of Cambodia in 2005 (Post, December

30, 2005) is that it fails to address the issues confronting Cambodia today and gives

too positive an assessment of the Hun Sen-Ranariddh coalition.

This is not surprising coming from a former Ambassador of Singapore, as the island

nation is essentially under a one-party rule that tolerates no criticism or dissenting

views. The People's Action Party has ruled the city-state since independence through

the Lee family and friends, stamping out all opposition in a meaningful form.

It is said that Hun Sen and Ranariddh have taken inspiration from Singapore to stamp

out all opposition in Cambodia by using defamation cases against any one that criticizes

the regime.

The big loser is certainly not Sam Rainsy or his SRP party. Indeed the party has

been able to function well while his leader has been forced into exile, providing

experience to a younger leadership of the party.

The big losers are Cambodia's institutions:

1) The National Assembly, under Ranariddh's leadership has become an entity where

every decision is taken according to the moods of leaders. It is not the institution

that legislates in a multiparty democracy but rather a rubber stamp where legislators

are unable to follow their conscience or show principles as they may risk their seats

in the National Assembly.

2) The Judiciary has lost all credibility as it is nothing but an instrument of the

Prime Minister and the Cambodian People's Party, manipulated, used and abused to

punish peaceful critics of the coalition government. Under such judiciary, it is

difficult to believe that the forthcoming Khmer Rouge trial, even with international

input, will be held in an impartial environment and without political interference.

3) The Monarchy has been treated with contempt, threatened, used and abused by the

political elite for their own political ends. The Royal Family is hopelessly divided,

with many members having sided with Hun Sen and Ranariddh in their attempts to bring

Cambodia backwards, while the ailing King-Father and other members of the family

try to keep it independent from political interference.

In a year of no wins for Cambodia, as far as democracy development is concerned,

the big losers are the ordinary citizens of the country, the "little people"

whose rights are abused by corrupt officials, land-grabbing military officers and

the lack of concern of the political elite.

* Julio A Jeldres is Chairman of the Khmer Institute of Democracy. He writes from

Melbourne, Australia.

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