Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The latest rumour in Phnom Penh, as the city sleeps,  is that there will be a coup today, Wednesday; that the army has been mobilized and by the end of the day that it will be in control of Cambodia. 

The last two days, since Sunday's election, have been filled with rumours, spreading like wild fire on Facebook then passed on as fact by word of mouth. All of the rumours, so far, have turned out to be false. Perhaps the imminent coup one is also. 

One rumour that seems to be true, however, is that leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy’s the Cambodian National Rescue Party has won more votes and more seats in the National Assembly (63 out of 123) in the election, despite the many ‘irregularities’ that saw more than one million Cambodians robbed of their right to vote as a result of their names disappearing from the voting lists.

If Sam Rainsy has won the election it will be an amazing turnaround in fortunes for a man who was, just two weeks ago in exile in France. He could not return to Cambodia without risking an eleven year jail sentence handed down by the notoriously  corrupt Cambodian judiciary,  beholden as it is to ‘strongman’ Prime Minister Hun Sen. The nonsensical charges against Rainsy were, as is so often the case when Hun Sen's CPP wishes to silence a critic, politically motivated.

In mid July, however, Rainsy received a Royal Pardon from Cambodia's King and was able to return to the country on 19th July and start campaigning for an election in which he would be unable to stand for a seat in the National Assembly and in which he would not even be able to vote.

Rainsy’s chances of becoming Prime Minister, of his party winning the popular vote 
were close to zero, as Rainsy freely acknowledged, but when he started to attend rallies and the crowds grew from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, it became clear that millions of Cambodians were investing their hopes and dreams in him to bring true democracy to a country that, after the ravages of the Khmer Rouge years, has been subjected to 28 years of human rights abuses, land grabbing, deforestation of the last remaining rain forests at the hands of the kleptocracy that runs the country – the family and friends of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

People who had, for the past close to three decades, been afraid to express their feelings about ‘strongman’ Hun Sen, justifiably fearing retribution if they did, now felt safe to do so openly. And Cambodia’s youth, a new Facebook generation, until recently politically disengaged, were able to use social media to find out what was actually going on in their country (the state run media being the only options open to them until a few years ago), to share information and, on election day, to bear witness with their mobile phone cameras to the various forms of fraud being perpetrated at polling stations all around the country. These have been posted online so that all Cambodians with access to a mobile phone can see and hear for themselves what actually happened as opposed to what the Ministry of Information tells them happened - the same Ministry that is now declaring that the elections were free and fair and that there is no evidence of the more than one million voters that the CNRP claims to have disappeared from the voting lists.

In the final days leading up to the election Cambodian air was filled with hope and the refrain that became the catchcry for Rainsy’s Cambodian National Rescue Party – ‘change, change, change.’ And change Cambodia has this past 48 hours. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party seems to be in shock. Far from the landslide that Hun Sen predicted (he has always won in the past with landslides) he had no choice, the day after the election and with considerable loss of face, to admit that his party had lost at least 22 seats of the 90 it had in the last National Assembly.

How could Hun Sen’s CPP lose so many seats when the party had put so much effort into denying voters for the opposition the right to vote, in creating so many ghost voters, in issuing many duplicate registrations such that when people turned up to vote someone had already voted in the place? It is because the people of Cambodia have had enough of Hun Sen and his corrupt cronies and want him gone. All those whose task it was to guarantee that he win another landslide had not counted on just how effective the will of a people can be when they want true democracy and not the sham version of it represented by the CPP and propped up year after year by an international donor community (including Australia) prepared to pay half Cambodia's bills whilst not insisting that Hun Sen get serious about transforming Cambodia from a kleptocracy into a democracy.

If there is a coup today, it is unclear if it will be the army defending Hun Sen’s right to remain in power as a dictator or will the army’s aim be to remove Hun Sen from power by force if he will not accept the election results and concede defeat? Hun Sen has 10,000 personal bodyguards who are, all Cambodians have been led to believe, fiercely loyal to him but, at the time of writing, a new rumour has it that the leader of this 10,000 strong bodyguard corps has resigned tonight. Will the other 9,999 bodyguards remain loyal to Hun Sen if the rest of the Cambodian people want him gone? 

Coup or no coup it is going to be an interesting day in Cambodia.  

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