Since 1993, Cambodia has gone through many trials and tribulations, in security, in politics, in border clashes, armed insurrections, illegal armed forces and the like.
Since that time, the political landscape has also changed with many political parties being formed just before the elections and then disappearing just as fast. The latest on the scene is neither a political party nor an ideology-based organisation, but rather what many are labelling correctly as the formation of an illegal armed force.
The formation of the Cambodian National Rescue Movement (CNRM) by erstwhile politician Sam Rainsy, a convict on the run from Cambodia with grandiose designs of politics, power and pomp, raises a serious question of legality.
There are precedents for these kind of movements which start as so called terrorists or freedom fighters and there is a fine line differentiating the two as one country’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.
In the case of Cambodia, there is Chhun Yasith, who was indicted in 2005 on charges relating to clashes with Cambodian government forces in Phnom Penh, an illegal military operation named Operation Volcanno.
According to VoA, Chhun Yasith was officially charged with “conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country and engaging in a military expedition against a nation with whom the United States is at peace”, the US Department of Justice said in a statement at the time of his arrest.
If that is the case of Chhun Yasith of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, one wonders what action will the United States take against Sam Rainsy and the other founders of the CNRM as this is no different from the CFF, albeit one waged war and the other is planning to do so. What does the Law on War and Law on Illegal Armed Forces of the United States and other civilised countries say on these matters?
Are they going to remain mum and allow this to remain? Or is the United States, some legislators in particular, going down the same path as they did in the case of Chhun Yasith and supposedly give tacit approval for Chhun Yasith to mount his futile attack on the Phnom Penh government, and for which he has been sentenced to life in prison?
Why would organisations like the CNRM, CFF, Khmer Serey and even in recent years, the KNLF, even dream about starting an organisation which from the inset gives the connotation and the implied reasoning that they are going to be nothing but a group of illegal armed forces?
Could it be the government policies which are driving them to this? Could it be the frustration with the slow pace of reforms and changes that the ruling government has promised time and again but is struggling to achieve in the 20 years it has been in power absolutely?
It must be pointed out that while the ruling coalition is making promises of change, it would not go far if not supported by a powerful political will. Has the government demonstrated a strong political will in undertaking much needed reforms?
Has the ruling party and government managed to turn around its Little Napoleons in the rural areas to those who are able to provide deliverables on time and efficiently, but most importantly, without facilitation fees to the people?
Frustration, anger and a deep sense of hopelessness leads people to think of unthinkable things in an effort to see change to their lives and if such changes do not come or are not brought about by the ruling party and government, they will believe and cling to hope created by opportunists in the shape of the CNRM and the now defunct CNRP.
The government’s slowness in tackling bread and butter issues such as irrigation, abject poverty, the absence or lack of access to the market place, neglected infrastructure and free education which is nothing but free will see the government facing a multitude of problems in one place where it matters – at the polls.
No one in the right frame of mind would want to see more turmoil in Cambodia, which seemed to be the case after almost every election in the country.
Despite progress being made by leaps and bounds by the ruling elites to make elections freer and fairer, are these steps sufficient to change the mindset of the long suffering rural poor or the hundreds of thousands of garment workers or the hundreds of thousands of farmers?
No matter what the government does and dishes out to the people, in what is termed as people centric policies and “goodies”, there will always be opportunities for opportunistic political parties in whatever shape, form or manner or political agenda they preach or deliver, even repackaged and rebranded such as the case of the now defunct CNRP, or the fast fading Funcinpec and the once seemingly mighty KNUF.
Some of these parties will resonate with the rural poor and even the intellect if sufficient care is not made to neutralise these parties, and in the case of the CNRM, movement as long as inequality is seen by the people at various levels and oppression is seen by those who have been marginalised by development or some unfair political decision.
Sentiments on polling day will carry the vote and irrespective of what the parties attempt or dish out to win the votes, bread and butter issues will remain as the crux of the matter as the prevailing sentiment (at least in the cities) is to vote for the opposition that had then offered the promise of a new government, but more importantly promised more goodies in the rural areas.
The views expressed above are the writer’s and not those of Khmer Times.