On 20 December 2013, after the session of the half-baked assembly, PM Hun Sen had given a press conference on current political stalemate. Among other things, he warned his critical opponents of the “Third Hands”. At that time, CNRP was holding its permanent mass demonstration at Freedom Park or Democracy Park. Long term observers feared of any use of violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. In the past, when he warned something, the warning mostly came true. It looks like that he had “magic mouth”.
The CNRP was still holding the daily demonstrations and marched through the city. Their demands were “Independent investigation committee on elections fraud”, “new elections” and finally “Hun Sen must go”. It attracted more and more people when the six unions and garment’s workers also declared general strikes to demand for salary increase from $91 to $160. The demonstrations and the strikes caused chaotic traffic to the city which already experienced bad traffic, especially during the rush hours. The strikes went on to provinces such as Svay Rieng, Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu and Phnom Penh. The workers started to block the national roads # 2, # 4, # 5, # 6 etc. Even, the streets in front of the Ministry of Labor and the Council of Ministers were cut off by the workers to put more pressure on the government. The situation was deteriorating every day.
Then, the bloodshed: the military polices, the bodyguard’ s units and the special force (Para-shoot troop Regiment 911) were used to crack down the strikes on 2-3.01.14 where 5 workers died, 40 injured and 23 detained in put in jail at the border to Vietnam (about 200K from Phnom Penh). The fact that they did not inform the public the whereabouts of the 23 detainees after the arrest and one week later it became known is due to the fear that mass protests could emerge again in Phnom Penh, if these detainees were put in jails in the capital. The crackdown was used as pretext to ban all demonstration and public gathering and to clear the Freedom Park, which was still occupied by peaceful demonstrators. Supported polices and military polices, plainclothes officials, equipped batons, iron sticks; marked by red ribbons were deployed to demolish anything standing there and push the sit-in demonstrators out of the park. The municipality went on to even ban any gathering more than 10 people in the public. Then, the ruling party has to celebrate its 35th anniversary of 7 January. They banned others, but organized own mass gathering with heavy police and military police’ s protection. The event was organized in a rush tempo and was lasting only about one hour. It was really a farce for the ruling party that they could not organize this event more than just symbolic.
Currently, the third hands are being used to threaten and intimidate any planned CNRP’s gathering. A meeting in Kandal province was intended to begin at 2 pm on 22 January, 2014. But the night before around 2,000 military, polices and “plainclothes civilians” were organized to stay in the pagoda close to the venue where Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are going to speak to their supporters. Though, they were not allowed to the meeting, some of them pushed themselves to the CNRP’s crowd and intended to create violence. The meeting was forced to cancel by CNRP’s leaders on the spot, because they did not want to fall into the traps of Hun Sen of “inciting violence” and arrest them.
However, during a recent three and half hours meeting with UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. Surya Subedi, PM gave assurance that “he will not arrest the two leaders, because he wants to keep the door open for dialogue and possible negotiation”. Subedi was often in Phnom Penh, but rarely was granted any meeting with Hun Sen.
On July 28, 2013, more than six million Cambodians or around 70 percent of eligible voters went to vote for change. They hoped with the new elections life could become better through better governance. Nine parties contested in the almost violent free elections. Nobody died before and during the elections process. It went in general peaceful. But, after the election, only two parties won the seats in the National Assembly: the CPP got 68 seats (or 48%), down from 90 seats and the CNRP received 55 seats (or 44%), increased from the combined 29 seats in the last elections in 2008. Though, the official results have been announced, the opposition party was not happy, denounced the official results and claimed that instead the CNRP has won the elections by 63 to 60 seats.
The CPP aligned National Election Committee (NEC) has just rushed to shift the responsibility to the higher level, the Constitutional Council (CC). In both institutions, where the majority of its members are coming from the ruling party, it is no wonder why they ruled for their own party. CNRP’s elections related complaints went in vain. The last hope of the opposition was the King. But, the King could not help much, instead went to preside over the half-baked assembly and half-baked government. Since then, the opposition has been trying to push for internal and external pressure on the government to accept their demands on independent investigation committee with international participation and reforms of the national election committee and the constitutional council. Leaders from both parties have met three times in September 2013, but achieved no significant results. Since then, the ruling party just goes ahead with their style, leaving no choice for the opposition parties to turn to their supporters for peaceful demonstrations. Many mass demonstrations and party’s gatherings were organized in Phnom Penh and in the provinces. The political stalemate still continues and the end is not yet in sight.
Really, I was hoping that our politicians have learnt the past experience and was able to compromise for the sake of the nation and its people. Our people have voted for change and that the two main parties should work together to bring the country forward. The violence in the post-election arena let at least six people died, dozens injured and dozens in jails. Cambodia is back in the world stage again bringing negative news to the public. It is a pity. Looking at the political theater now, I am less optimistic that the deadlock might come to an end soon. The good news is that the economic development is progressing as usual, though slightly affected, and our people are now not afraid to speak out their concerns, despite all the intimidation and pressure by the current government.
In Phnom Penh, we have traffic jams every day, especially during the rush hours in the morning (07-08:30 am) and in the evening (05-06:30 pm). The reasons behind are:
- The economic development in the past ten years, an average growth of 7% per annum of GDP, has brought some prosperity to a good section of the society. People could afford to buy cars and motor bikes. In my family, a family of five persons, we have two cars and two motor bikes. Some of the newly rich families, they even have many more cars. It means that we have more and more vehicles on the same roads designed and constructed fifty years ago, when Phnom Penh has just hundred thousands of inhabitants.
- Population increased from one million to estimated three million by now. According to the official data, the capital has 1.5 million. But, we have around 500,000 garment workers living in the city’s suburbs and hundreds of thousands of construction workers living here as well.
- In addition to the increasing numbers of vehicles driving behavior contributes significantly to the traffic jams. Many people just do not know the basic driving principle “right before left”, who has “priority”, which line I should use? Etc. One thing that many people know just: “drive ahead the way I could. I do not care for others”.
- About 10% of the road users do not respect traffic lights. They just try to go ahead and causing road blockades to other users and even causing accidents. It is a pity that the trend is increasing.
- Heavy and long trucks, though officially forbidden from 21 pm till 05 am, could still be seen during day’s light in the city’s centers. These trucks are causing traffic jams, traffic accidents, destroying the roads, creating huge dust for people living along the roads and creating noise and environmental pollution.
- Last, but not least is poor city planning and traffic management. Restaurants, banks or shops are allowed to be opened in the already busy roads intersections. Even some of the public bus stations were sold and many private bus companies now have own stations across the cities.
The Municipality, in collaboration with JICA, now will try the second times to introduce the City Bus, starting with one line from Chroy Chngvar to Chba Ampov. One ticket costs 1,500 Riel or $0.37. The first pilot project was introduced few years ago, but failed, and the test was put on halt in after one month. It remains to be seen how this second try will work.
The City Bus was functioning well in the seventies. I still remembered when I was living in Phnom Penh from 1973 to 1975. I used to travel by bus in different directions, some time just to enjoy the ride, since it was cheap and was convenient too. I did not have motorbike and the bus is quicker than riding on my bicycle. The situation now is much different since many people could afford motorbikes. In addition, the use of “motor taxi” is quite common, flexible, fast and plenty to get the service; at every corner. Under hot weather, Cambodians do not want to wait or let alone to walk.
Let’s hope that the try bears good result this time and the City Bus could help to ease the traffic problems in our Municipality.
In the occasion of the 20th CALD Anniversary (Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats), Freedom run was organized by FNF Philippines Office, with the contribution of local councils and private companies. It is a third freedom run, which has been organized annually since 2011. I was excited already, when I got the information that I will be invited to participate in the conference and the regional meeting right after. It means that I will be from 08.-15.11.2013 in Manila. The freedom run was organized on Sunday 10, November 2013.
Since I have practiced my physical programme since 2008, I used to walk, jog, run, swim, cycle etc. I decided to join the 10K at freedom run, though I have never done it before. What I have done so far was between 3-7K. But, I decided to put the goal higher, if I could not achieve, it could be also an experience for me as well. I could drop out anywhere, anytime.
We were told to wake up earlier and our bus left the hotel at 4am. We arrived at the scenes short before 5am. Many people already arrived. We have made photos, done warming up, listened to music and short speeches about freedom run events. At about 6am, the shot was fired in the air, and the run started. We left the park and run along the avenue, which is kept free for us by volunteers and police officials. Though, we have free lanes, but the smell of gasoline smokes from vehicles next to our routs, disturbs us quite a bit. From our group of about forty people, only two of us made the 10K. Others just do the 3K. In total, about 4,000 people joined the freedom run. Five female and five male runners will be awarded in each category, 3 and 10K.
My impression from the run (jogging):
- It was my first ever non-stop long distance running, though a bit tired, but I went through without pause
- The atmosphere is joyful and with lots of fun
- The motto of the program: i am free: from corruption
- It is political education through running program
- Involvement of local government, private sectors and young people
Since 1998, I have paid official working visits this country several times. I got the opportunity to visit the capital and some parts of the country. The weather and the climate is similar to Cambodia, the difference is that when there is storm and typhoon in the Philippines, there will be good rains in Cambodia.
So far, I only have very good experience and never encountered any unpleasant surprise. The people are very friendly, easy-going, arts and performance loving and enjoy their life despite all the hardship caused by natural and/or man-made disaster.
Somehow, I have strong memorial connections to this country, the Philippines: 1. I had created my first ever email’s account in Hotmail in 1998 here; 2. I got the first touch with the Digital Camera, in 2000; 3. I had the most memorial dinner in 2008 and participated in a Whisky workshop, in 2008 and 2013 respectively; 4. I ate the biggest crab I have encountered so far; 5. Of course the unique ride with the local Jeepny etc. Any program, either official or private, was organized in a perfect manner and with great hospitality. The Filipinos are really masters in taking care of their invited guests. Life is wonderful!
However, what I could observe during my short stay here is the wide gap between the rich and the poor. In Manila, you could high-rise buildings such as in Makati City and beautiful avenues along the Bay, but you could see also slum areas in the middle of the city. The traffic in the city is rather chaotic due to high number of vehicles and people living in the city. Though, it more or less in all Asian big cities due to lack of proper city’s planning and public transport systems.
From 08-15 November 2013, I was in the Philippines to attend the 20th CALD Anniversary and FNF Regional Meeting in Manila. It could be my fourth or fifth visits to the country. My last one was in 2008 and the first one was in 1998. Few days before departure date, we have heard of the super typhoon Haiyan was approaching, which will struck the Philippines on Friday, exactly the date of my arrival. I was a bit worry, but since there is no information of cancellation of the program etc, I assume that it would be safe.
In the internet, in the printed and social media, also on TVs; we could read many articles on the upcoming super typhoon. When we arrived, there was heavy rain and strong wind in Manila, but nothing else. I was relieved to see the positive development, but we have not heard about the devastation caused by the typhoon, yet until early morning the next day, on the newspaper.
This natural disaster has caused unprecedented destruction to the islands, down south of Manila. Our heartfelt condolence to the victims and their families and the people of the Philippines. For more info:
This year alone, around twenty of cyclones and/or typhoons have hit this country, causing heavy rains and destruction, including an earthquake. I am wondering how the Philippines people cope up with the situation and how they could manage to live in permanent fears of these kinds of natural or man-made disasters. The country lies in the so-called fire ring, in which such turbulence and disasters are common. The country has more than 7,100 islands and has many ethnic groups using around hundred different languages.
This time, I did not have opportunity to see the countryside, since we have our functions mainly in Manila. However, every time I came here, I received warmly welcome and experienced high grade of hospitality offered by our hosts. They are really friendly, easy going and fun loving. It seems that every Filipino could sing and dance and is able to sing in a very professional manner. I am not sure, how comes? Maybe, because they are surrounded by sea and Oceans and the (salty) wind, also the climate, has shaped their voice tremendously? I do not have any explanation, but I highly admire their competence in arts and performance. They used to live under the Spanish about three hundred years and around one hundred years under the Americans. Their culture is shaped by influence of different Western and Eastern culture.
PAL stands for Philippine Airlines. But some would say PAL is well known as “Philippines Always Late”. My travel agency booked the return connection flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh with a time frame of more than five hours, though I could take a shorter period for transfer. When asked why, he refers to the inconvenience or unreliability of PAL.
But, my trip to Manila proofed that it was quite wrong. My trip to Manila on 08 November, 2013, was well-arranged: smooth check-in, with Airbus A330-400 plane arrived on time from Manila, plenty of time for boarding, and arrived in Manila ten minutes ahead of schedule. The catering on board was also more than sufficient: hot meal, red wine and one cool SMB. On the way back from Manila, it was the same experience concerning time of departure and arrival time, with a new Boeing B777-300. The flight took two hours and forty-five minutes.
We arrived in Bangkok, again fifteen minutes, ahead of schedule. But, I observed that the security check was not that serious like in other airports such as in Europe or even in Phnom Penh or in Thailand. I took my 330 ml bottle water with me and it could get through. No need to take the lap-top out of the bag, no need to take out the belt and the shoes etc; which are quite common in other airports’ security checks. Maybe our Philippines’ friends are “easy-going people” and do not want that their checking procedures could cause inconvenience to passengers. However, we should not compromise in term of safety and security, I think.
However, the flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, with Bangkok Airways, was delayed for one hour due to technical reasons or late arrival of coming aircraft, which is quite common with PG. But, I still like flying with this airline because of friendly services and excellent catering on board. For a one hour flight between Phnom Penh and Bangkok, we could have hot meal, plus coffee/tea/soft drinks/beer or/and wine (fifty minutes fly). Among other airlines flying to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Bangkok Airways is to my opinion, one of the best in term of catering services.
After the elections in July, I have not written much in my blog, but I have posted my feeling and my political standpoints often on my facebook timeline. My intention was to help providing critical ideas, comments and suggestions to Cambodian Politicians for consideration and possibly to act.
To me: current political deadlock and more confrontation bring us to no where. I would prefer to see that both party’s leaders come back to negotiation table, discuss among ourselves/Cambodians, be pragmatic, take an active role in the parliament, help to build a constructive opposition and help to ease the suffering of the people. Compromise means “give and take”, while real justice could be found a long the way, I hope one day. Political deadlock in the long run does not mean death for politicians, but for ordinary Cambodians and its economy.
An interesting article highlighting the position of the opposition leader, Sam Rainsy.
My position is as follows: The leaders of the two main political parties coming back to negotiation table, the sooner the better; talk genuinely based on the joint communique on 16.09.13, and come to an agreement to work for the nation. Everybody knows, it will be not easy. But, talking to each other always better than confrontation and asking foreign countries for help. The CPP should be ready to give the First Vice-President of the NA, five Chairmen and five vice-Chairmen of the AN committees to CNRP, while maintaining slightly majority of the Permanent Committee based on the supreme vote of the NA President. It is a power sharing formula, which could be accepted by both parties. CPP urgently needs reform, while CNRP could have access to offer policies and law initiatives in the parliament. CNRP needs to soften its position as well. We will not forget our fight for voter’s justice and voter’s rights, but we have to move on as a united nation, rather than a divided one. Former King Sihanouk did express his sincere wishes to have national reconciliation and Cambodians being united.
A lot has been written on recent national elections in Cambodia, on 28 July 2013. The controversial preliminary results announced by NEC on 31 July have shown that CPP won, but lose the two-third majority in the Parliament. I have spent the whole day to vote, to cycle around in order to observe many voting stations in Phnom Penh, to observe the counting process, to follow up the first announcement on TV and to reflect on the possible outcomes. In general, I am disappointed but happy with the whole elections process. Elections alone are not to bring real democracy to a nation; it is however an important step towards that direction.
What was the difference comparing to the last four national elections since 1993, just in very short version:
- The whole process went peacefully, though we might have seen some minor incidents here and there. Nobody died.
- Overwhelming participation of the youth; during campaigns, election and afterwards.
- Voters turnout was officially 69%, lower than before. But if everybody could cast their votes, their names were not intentionally deleted etc, I would say at least 80-85% turnout.
- The power of money loses to the “will power”.
- Scars tactics did not work.
- Most people understood the process and voted according to their will.
- Liar could not win against the truth.
- Politicians from both parties, CNRP and CPP, become more mature.
- Dialogue is in, confrontation is out.
- People are standing up for their rights, but behave responsibly.
- Power of social communication networks over traditional media.
- The wind of change has arrived.
Below are my three own examples for consideration:
Example 1: I have spent time in my voting stations to observe election and counting process. We have 23 polling stations in the Tuol Kork primary school compound. In all the stations, CNRP won by far. In my station # 447 (524 voters on the list, but only 202 ballots in the box, 38.54%): CNRP got 112, CPP: 80, Funcinpec: 2, LDP: 2 and party #6 got 2 votes, invalid ballots: 4. In station # 1271 (567 voters on the list, but 450 ballots in the box, 79.36%), where my two sons voted: CNRP received 244, CPP: 182, Funcinpec: 9 and LDP: 5, invalid ballots: 10. This indicated that people would like to see change.
Example 2: After leaving the voting station, we have met among friends to follow up the results from different sources. We received only good news for CNRP. We tried to see the results shown by TVs and radios, but nothing, except music, music…In the last commune elections in 2012; they aired the results live from polling stations after three o’clock. At 5 pm, they announced the preliminary results already (because they were so sure that they would win). But, on election day they waited till 08:30 pm to announce the first results on state owned TVK, commune by commune, starting from Pailin and Pursat, where they would win. It was followed by results in Phnom Penh that shown mainly CNRP have won. Suddenly, the announcement was cut and replaced by music for about thirty minutes. Then, it turned out to be results from province, by province showing that CPP has won. It is very unusual and caused big doubts among us and all Cambodians.
Example 3: My two sons (19 and 20) were very active in this election. They have spent their own money, own motorbikes, own time, own energy, own ideas to prepare for campaigns with their team members,… everyday from the morning till late night. They have voted for “Change” and would like to see better development for this country. Though, we have never talked about politics at home, their political participation surpassed by far my expectation from the youth.
Our heroic Cambodian people are really the winners of this election.