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Cambodia now is different from 28 years ago

Soun Nimeth / Share:
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This is a response to an opinion piece by Kornelius Purba entitled “Indonesia should help Cambodia again, after 28 years” published in the Jakarta Post.

Currently, Cambodia’s domestic issue is being over-internationalized- this leads to the undermining of the country’s sovereignty, independence, peaceful democratization, and economic well-being.

Konelius Purba’s piece reflects a lack of understanding of the “new” Cambodia. His views are shaped by what he knew about Cambodia in the past, an “old” Cambodia. He seems to have a comprehensive understanding of Cambodia’s recent past, but he is probably ill-informed with the current situation of Cambodia.

He was also trapped in the narratives of some Cambodian populist and extremist politicians.

The fact that Indonesia was among the pro-active peace mediators for Cambodia in the late 1980s and early 1990s was indisputable and Cambodia is grateful for that.

28 years ago Cambodia was in a state of civil war. 28 years ago different Cambodian political and armed groups sought help from overseas. All factions agreed to accept mediation role from Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and France.

However, at this point in time, the offer to help is uninvited. In such case, it is considered as a mere interference into Cambodia’s domestic affairs. The commentator should know what kind of democracy he is seeking to promote, or at least be sure of whom he is suggesting to help.

To save Cambodia from 20 year-old peace or the longest peace in Cambodia’s modern history? To save Cambodia from 20 years of 7% average growth?

It needs to be noted that over the past two decades, Cambodia have built foundations for sustainable peace and development. However, that hard-earned peace remains fragile due to rising populist politics and political extremism. Indonesia’s democracy is being challenged by rising religious fundamentalism.

Cambodia’s unfolding political dynamics are influenced by extremists who constantly provoke street riots and seek violent change through undemocratic means. The call for the armed forces to rise up against a legitimate government, democratically elected by more than 80 percent of the registered voters cannot be tolerated.

Konelius Purba should at least check the profiles, speeches, thoughts and deeds of those politicians he is trying to offer assistance. From the nutshell, there is no patriotic politicians in the world who seek foreign countries to put sanctions on their own country and people like these destructive Cambodian politicians.

For instance, despite their domestic struggles, Thaksin Shinawatra, Aung San Suu Kyi, Anwar Ibrahim, Benigno Aquino never sought foreign economic sanctions on their own countries and peoples.

In terms of principle, this is very un-Indonesian if Indonesia supports populist and extremist politicians because Indonesia’s Pancasila principles aim to promote moderation and toleration and to reject radicalism and extremism.

Indonesia should encourage those extremist Cambodian politicians to pursue dialogue and national reconciliation, not “popular uprising” or a colour revolution.

Foreigners should be more attentive to the complexity of Cambodia’s domestic politics and foreign policy before making their comments, which can be counterproductive to a young and fragile democracy in Cambodia as well as the ASEAN unity.

Cambodia nowadays is different from Cambodia 28 years ago. With young workforces, Cambodia is one of the most dynamic economies in the region. In terms of democracy, the rising middle class is the cornerstone of peaceful democratisation.

A healthy democracy starts from within. Cambodia is on the right track towards democratic consolidation. Demographic changes, social transformation, and economic development are the key determinants of Cambodia’s democracy.

Foreign analysts do not understand Cambodia. They mainly reinforce the arguments of others and largely rely on secondary data, especially online news. Without talking to local stakeholders, the arguments are weak and baseless.

My message for the lazy journalist and opinion writer is to change their approach and come to conduct field study or research in Cambodia in order to develop evidence-based analysis.


Soun Nimeth is a Cambodian Analyst based in Phnom Penh.


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