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Happy New Year 2021 and may we be rid of COVID-19 and political shenanigans

Passengers disembarking from the cruise ship MS Westerdam in February 2020. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The clock chimed 12 midnight to mark the end of 2020, a year of unrelenting onslaught of unprecedented unknowns due the COVID-19 pandemic which not only affected Cambodia but nations all over the world.

Cambodia’s economy with an open market system has been rapidly progressing for more than a decade and the Kingdom expected a better economic performance in 2020 with strengthened diplomatic ties but a “little deadly virus” turned it into a near disaster.

For the first time, the globalised community felt the full brunt of living in a globalised world where a virus which started in one country swept across 218 countries, taking more than 1.8 million lives and inflicting close to 83 million others.

A combination of science and the fight to save humanity from being totally vanquished by a killer virus ruined lives and nations and drove millions into despair and yet hope.

Cambodia was not spared in almost every aspect. Tourism dollars dried up as almost all flights for a booming travel, airline, hospitality and aviation sectors virtually dried up within a rather short spell of a quarter.

The country and its leaders, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen were faced with a triple whammy last year. The EBA, COVID-19 and severe floods piled on the nation’s misery. The partial revocation of EBA by the EU and the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic meant funds needed for development had to be reallocated for stimulus package, vaccine purchases, flood relief.

Amongst all these despair, the positive side is that tax and customs revenue remained steady and domestic tourism came to the fore. Cambodians showed their humanitarian side, not only for their fellow Cambodians but also for the stranded cruise vessel passengers and crew on board the MS Westerdam which was denied anchor by many countries until Cambodia’s Prime Minister and the country came to the vessel’s rescue.

This showed that although Cambodia was a poor country, it still had a magnanimously big heart by allowing the Westerdam to berth, the passengers allowed to disembark and board flights home, resupplied and allowed to sail for Manila.

Cambodia showed the world what humanity was all about. It did not discriminate any nation or people even though Cambodians and the country as a whole and her sovereignty was trampled on baseless allegations and assumptions based on just that – suppositions and rumours.

Mixed signals emerging from some super powers further complicated matters locally. This was compounded by political fissures in some of the super powers own political backyard. Hopefully, a new president in the White House by end January will see a change of tempo and softening of rhetoric and hardline stance against Cambodia.

Domestically, Prime Minister Hun Sen, love him or hate him, has to be lauded for his moves in taking extreme measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and remains one of very few countries in the world without a death since the outbreak started in mid-January last year.

Schools were shut and reopened several times, along with other places where people congregated. This disrupted people, their regular routine and lifestyle but extreme situations calls for extreme measures and Mr Hun Sen’s measures has helped keep the infection rate low with high recovery rate, despite a national health system which is not in great shape.

The country also saw its first drop of oil finally emerging from the seabed some 140 kilometers from the coast of Sihanoukville after numerous failed attempts and promises. The black gold has finally emerged and Cambodia may stand to see development in the years to come once the crude production and long stalled refinery comes online full-fledged.

On the local political scene, the remnants of the misled, recalcitrant and clueless former opposition activist, agent provocateurs and members were still out to create mischief and even resorted to Less Majeste against His Majesty Norodom Sihamoni and the Queen Mother.

Sam Rainsy, the rabid government critic remains a national coward rather than a patriot and nationalist. Even his one-time partner, Kem Sokha, has distanced himself from the narcissist self-exiled Rainsy who traveled the world before the pandemic to stir up problems and difficulties for Cambodia.

One cannot be a nationalist and patriot if one goes around asking anyone who cared to listen to put sanction against his own country and no one in the civilised world will also called for armed rebellion against an elected government, irrespective of whether it is a one party or a multi-party system even if it by default.

On hindsight, Rainsy himself was the cause of the rout of the opposition parties in 2018 with his calls for a boycott.

Hopefully the premier will maintain his stance, remain a statesman and refrain from reacting to Rainsy’s numerous provocative statements and mischief. Khmer Times would like to borrow a quote which says “A lion does not turn around when a small dog barks”. In stating this, it applies to Rainsy as he can continue barking as he cannot even get his math right on calculations pertaining to vaccines and what is the international practice in its procurement for COVID-19. And to think, he was the country’s first finance minister who also wanted to cut defence spending at a time when RCAF members were fighting the Khmer Rouge and dying every day.

There is much more to be said but even a couple of pages would not be sufficient to cover it all. 2020 started with a bang and ended almost with a whimper with the November 28 community incident which saw 41 Cambodians being infected with the COVID-19 virus.

However, positive news about charitable Cambodians contributing more than $55 million for the COVID-19 vaccines, the first drop of crude and impressive reserves for gold and tax revenue gives hope for 2021.

Now the Government led by Mr Hun Sen need to get back to work and fight to get Cambodia back to normalcy as soon as conditions are permissible and international consensus are attained in many areas such as standardised protocols for quarantine, flight restrictions, travel bubbles, introduction of vaccine to contain and eventually eradicate the virus and putting Cambodia back on firm footing economically and financially.

Economic and financial stability will lead to political, social and security stability and this is what all of Cambodia wants and aspire. Happy New Year!

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