Mellow demo

September 9, 2013

So, the demonstration on Saturday went off smoothly, with no signs of problems or violence. So that was nice. It was actually one of the nicer demos I’ve ever been on; although it was brutally hot, everyone was smiley and cheery and friendly. Of course, being a foreigner with a camera and a press pass automatically makes you a bit more popular with opposition forces, who want as much international recognition as they can get. The police tried to keep foreigners away, and we’d been warned by the Foreign Ministry to stay at home, but it wasn’t particularly hard to evade them.

Following the demo, the Election Commission announced what it called the official results of the elections, which predictably gave the ruling CPP 68 seats and the opposition CNRP 55. The CNRP, also predictably, immediately announced a new series of demos for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday next week.

Many in Phnom Penh are wondering when the CNRP are going to cave in, and take their 55 seats. From my vantage point, it’s obvious that much investment and new business is sitting on its hands, waiting for resolution, and business people are getting increasingly frustrated with the stalemate.

The King, widely seen as a peacemaker, is flying back from a month in Beijing in a couple of days, which may or may not help. And there are mutters of US involvement with the process, although they’re almost impossible to substantiate.

Meanwhile China has now emerged as a focus for the opposition, with prominent politicians warning that the Cambodian government has given too much ground to Beijing, which they fear is threatening to overrun the country.

Opposition heavyweight Son Chay led the attack in an interview with a local magazine: “We appreciate America a lot,” Son Chay said. “The country that has assisted Cambodia in moving forward with democracy is the US … In contrast, the Chinese are quite different. We have never had a good, beneficial relationship with China.” It’s a welcome change for the opposition to attack someone other than Vietnam, attacks that seemed tasteless to many western observers.

Son Chay said the Chinese were exploiting the country’s resources. “Look at our forests, they have cut down all of our trees—and they have cheated us on all of these loans.”

China has become Cambodia’s biggest lender over the last 20 years, ploughing more than $11 billion into the country largely through soft loans, which it says come with no strings attached.

However, Chinese companies have won vast economic land concession from the Cambodian government, which has also defied its neighbours and backed Beijing over the South China Sea issue.

It’s an attack the government was quick to defend. Cambodian Red Cross President Bun Rany, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Cambodia and China were “brothers” and were always ready to help each other.

The problem for Hun Sen and the ruling CPP, however, remains the Khmer Rouge. Cosying up to the Chinese isn’t always good politics in this country.

Older Cambodians have long memories, and China was the only country to actively support Pol Pot during the Khmer Rouge era. Whether support for China will continue through the Khmer Riche era is a different question.

In other news, the Khmer Rouge Trial has just announced the resignation of British co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley. The court, and the prosecutors, have been having a troubling time recently. Cayley’s resignation statement said in part: “I certainly hope that some of the immediate financial issues the court faces can be resolved to allow the caseload to be completed in an orderly and timely fashion.  It has been a great honour to be part of this historic process of bringing a measure of justice to the Cambodian people.”

A measure of justice. Quite.

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