Saturday, August 3, 2013


At the end of yet another tumultuous day in Cambodian politics I try to take in the events of the past 24 hours; to make sense of it all.

What is one to make, for instance, of Hun Sen’s announcement last night (Friday) that unless Rainsy’s CNRP members take their seats in the National Assembly before the end of the 60 day deadline for the formation of a new government, he will take the seats the SNRP has won and give them to his Cambodian People’s Party? Is he serious or is this intimidation at its crudest? Or has he lost the plot?

I learnt many years ago that nothing in Cambodia is ever quite as it seems to be, even if the evidence that it is so is staring you right in the face.  This fact, combined with the sheer volume of rumours floating around Phnom Penh this weekend, and nonsense emanating from Hun Sen’s mouth, makes it difficult to do anything other than make guesses (and not necessarily educated ones) as to what might happen next.
One rumour has it that Hun Sen has told his young followers to attend any demonstrations held by Rainsy armed and prepared to shoot? True or false? Intimidation? It is impossible to know but the response to the rumour is interesting.  A university lecturer I spoke with today, (who I think would not appreciate it if I mentioned his name at this delicate juncture) who teaches young men and women, told me that most of his students have no fear of being killed and that threats of being shot by CPP supports or Hun Sen’s 10,000 strong bodyguard would not deter them from attending.
In my 18 years of coming to Cambodia I have never before known the populace to be so lacking in fear. It must be a terrifying moment for a dictator to learn that his subjects no longer fear him!
On Tuesday 6th August the first of the post election demonstrations will occur, to be held in Freedom Park opposite the National Assembly, in the same place where, in March 1997, Rainsy narrowly escaped a grenade attack. It will not, strictly speaking, be a demonstration at all but a rally in support of Rainsy and at which he will thank his supporters for their patience; for their adherence to his calls for calm.
On the basis of what I have seen at pre-election rallies and during Rainsy’s vists to the provinces today (where he is greeted and treated as if he were a pop star) this will be a huge gathering and a test for Hun Sen. Will he allow the rally/demonstration to occur? Is there any way he could actually prevent it even if he wanted to? And if he allows such a huge gathering to occur two days before the official announcement of the results, will be also allow to occur the huge demonstrations that must surely take place after the SEC announces that Hun Sen is the winner? At what point will Hun Sen say, “Enough is enough,” and do whatever he needs to do to bring the demonstrations to an end?
If Hun Sen uses violence to end the demonstrations, will he succeed in his objective to bring them to an end or will the shedding of  blood result in bringing more and more people into the streets until the moment comes when the army, the police and even Hun Sen’s supposedly fiercely loyal 10,000 strong personal bodyguard have to decide whether to shoot their fellow Cambodians or turn their guns on Hun Sen himself.

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